Analyzing the rationales behind Russia's intervention in Ukraine
Thomas, Kevin T.
Yost, David S.
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This thesis examines the rationales behind Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to intervene in Ukraine through the lenses of neoclassical realism and prospect theory. The risk-acceptant decision to employ hybrid warfare in Crimea was fundamentally due to Putin’s loss aversion. Since Putin frames his political decision-making reference point in the realm of losses, his decision sought to prevent the imminent losses of Ukraine’s Russian-oriented government, Russia’s influence in Ukraine, and Putin’s own political power at home. It also sought to somewhat recover from the catastrophic loss of the Soviet Union’s territorial possessions, population, and status. Putin exploited Western leaders’ naiveté and vulnerabilities to prepare a geopolitical landscape wherein Russia could act without incurring excessive costs. Emboldened by Russia’s large financial reserves and backed by Russia’s seemingly irrational threats of cutting off essential European gas supplies and launching nuclear attacks, Putin correctly anticipated a limited economic sanctions response and a negligible military response from the West. Putin’s decision furthered Russia’s interests by acquiring Crimea, the strategically indispensable port of Sevastopol, and vast Black Sea region resources. Such action also thwarted the expansion of Western institutions in Ukraine and incited fervent Russian ethno-nationalism, boosting Putin’s domestic approval ratings to an unprecedented level.
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