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Leonid Bershidsky

Have Putin’s Ukraine Goals Shrunk or Expanded?

The seeming expansion of Russia’s territorial ambitions comes as a sign of relative military weakness, not strength.

His plans keep shifting.

His plans keep shifting.

Photographer: Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

The war in Ukraine is, let’s admit it, weird. Russian citizens can, at least theoretically, travel to Ukraine for business or pleasure, though now — only since June — they need visas. The belligerents are parties to a recent deal ensuring safe grain exports. Russian gas keeps flowing to Europe through Ukraine’s pipeline system, albeit in reduced volumes. Countries that supply weapons to Ukraine are also paying Russia for energy and fertilizer imports, thus also funding its war effort. It’s not easy to imagine any of this going on during, say, World War II.

If that tangle of relationships is not confusing enough, both Russia’s stated invasion goals and outsiders’ perceptions of them appear to be shifting shape on a monthly basis.