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As far as I knew, Russia invaded Ukraine because Ukraine wanted to join the West.

Why was Ukraine joining NATO a problem? Because Russia wanted to maintain a buffer zone between NATO and its border (e.g. Belarus, Finland, Georgia).

Why does Russia want a buffer zone? Because that would give them a military advantage over NATO in the case of a NATO invasion.

Nonetheless, Ukraine is moving forward with its plan to join NATO.

My question is: since Ukraine's NATO membership is almost inevitable, was the invasion of Ukraine a miscalculation and waste of time by Russia?

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    To answer the question we should know which the Russian objectives actually are. For example, one important point that you do not mention is the Russian naval base at Sevastopol, that was the most important in the Black Sea and that Ukraine had leased to Russia (for 50 years, IIRC). I do not know if it was the decisive factor leading to the invasion (in which case you could say that, for the time being, Russia has won) or if it was a secondary one, but it certainly was an important one. – SJuan76 Jul 15 '17 at 18:57
  • they already grabbed a huge amount of important territory and most probably will grab another one. All of this almost for nothing. Does this look like a waster of time to you? – Salvador Dali Jul 15 '17 at 22:29
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As far as I knew, Russia invaded Ukraine because Ukraine wanted to join the West.

The situation wasn't quite so simple. Western Ukraine wanted to join the West, Eastern Ukraine wanted stronger ties with Russia, and the political balance was razor thin. In 2007 parliamentary elections, the breakdown was as follows:

Orange Parties (Pro-Western)

Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc 156 seats

Our Ukraine–People's Self-Defense Bloc 72 seats

Subtotal: 228 seats

Pro-Russian Parties

Party of Regions 175

Communist Party of Ukraine 27 seats

Subtotal: 202 seats

Other Parties

Lytvyn Bloc 20 seats

Total: 450 seats (a majority it 226; a two-thirds majority is 300).

Eastern Ukraine was very pro-Russian prior to the February 2014 invasion and subsequent annexation of Crimea by Russia with Crimea (which was only annexed to the Ukraine in 1956) being particular pro-Russian (the pro-Russian Party of Regions won 61% of the vote in Crimea second only to Sevastopol which is also on the Crimean peninsula and two other far Eastern provinces which are now mostly occupied by Russia), while Western Ukraine (which had a narrow majority) tended to be pro-Western, as the results from the 2007 election in the Ukraine (via Wikipedia) illustrates:

enter image description here

The first language of residents of Ukraine also show a West to East cline with Ukrainian more widely spoken as a first language in the West and Russian more widely spoken as a first language in the East.

enter image description here

Population with Ukrainian as their native language in Ukraine by oblast (2001 census) via Wikipedia

Only about 10% of people in Crimea and less than a majority of people in the strongly pro-Russian Eastern Oblasts speak Ukrainian as their first language.

In general, there are more people who identify as ethnically Russian in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea (less than 25% of the residents of Crimea are ethnically Ukrainian), and there are more people who identify ethnically as Ukrainian in Western Ukraine, with a pretty clear dividing line where the majority shifts.

enter image description here

Image above from Wikipedia

(The smaller, less Ukrainian oblast on the Crimean peninsula which joined Ukraine administratively in 1956 is Sevastopol). As explained in this article:

Following the 2014 Crimean crisis, Crimea and Sevastopol became de facto administrated by the Russian Federation, which claims them as the Republic of Crimea and the federal city of Sevastopol. They are still recognised as being Ukrainian territory by the majority of the international community.

The area Russia controls now is roughly as follows (subject to shifts in an active war in Eastern Ukraine):

enter image description here

One can seek that it coincides with parts of Ukraine where Ukrainian identity and language speaking is lowest, although still very significant. All four oblasts occupied by Russia or Russian-allied forces have a majority of non-Ukrainian first language speakers, and these four oblasts have the lowest percentages of people who identify as ethnically Ukrainian, although a majority of the two Russian occupied oblasts outside of Crimea still identify as ethnically Ukrainian.

So, the partial Russian invasion was partially about protecting co-ethnics who were shut out of power at the national level in Ukraine despite making up a very substantial minority of the population of Ukraine which was a majority in perhaps a third or more of the country geographically speaking.

But, while a division of Ukraine might have been desirable from a political autonomy perspective for everyone in the country if reached peaceably, a unilateral invasion of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine by their co-ethnic Russians implicated the sovereignty of Ukraine and showed a disrespect for the principles of sovereignty or international diplomacy or norms by Russia.

International political alliances may not have been irrelevant to the Russian invasion, but ties of ethnicity and language clearly played an important part as well.

It is also worthwhile to observe that the annexation or control of the most pro-Russian oblasts by Russia has the effect of tipping the previously almost evenly divided political balance in the rest of Ukraine in favor of pro-Western forces by removing core areas of pro-Russian parliamentary support from Ukraine's parliament. So, while the Russian occupation may be fairly effective in providing "protection" to Russians in areas with Russian majority populations within Ukraine, the Russian occupation is actually counterproductive for Russia in terms of the influence it has on Ukraine's international and trade relations as a whole, even before international sanctions arising as a result of Russian occupation are considered.

For example, a lot of key manufacturers of Russian military equipment were located in Ukraine and have now ceased to do business with Russia's military, crippling several critical Russia military programs such as its program to expand its Navy.

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    This post is detailed and (mostly) accurate. One caveat is its claim about "protecting co-ethnics who were shut out of power at the national level". The Revolution of Dignity was to remove the blatantly corrupted marionette regime who led to withdrawal from EU integration in exchange of Russia's "donation" of $3bn to Yanukovich's pocket. It was about removing the corruption, not the Russians. And it is not Ukraine's fault that the most of corrupt officials and organized crime were of Russian origin. […] – bytebuster Jul 20 '17 at 0:01
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    […] However, the Russians are trying to exploit this and turn the Revolution as an ethnic conflict. Hence, the armed invasion may look like "protecting their co-ethnic Russians". It is not. We still have a huge number of non-Ukrainian nationals (I would say more than 50%) on key positions at the national level, and they will stay there, provided that they defend the interests of Ukraine and not steal (too much:)). – bytebuster Jul 20 '17 at 0:01
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    @bytebuster The motives of Ukrainian voters that you describe in your two comments sound plausible and probably accurate. But, for the purposes of this answer the question is not "what was reality on the ground in Ukraine?", but "what was the perception in the eyes of Russian policy makers?" I think it is much more likely that the narrative provided in the answer accurately describes their views than the one in your two comments, even if Russian policy makers we're ill informed about their basis for war (Americans have gone to war for ill informed reasons too.) – ohwilleke Jul 20 '17 at 3:42
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    Almost all of the illustrations on native languages in media & internet are misleading, very few talk about it. Many of Russian-speaking people in Ukraine have a specific feature: they speak Russian in daily life, but when they are asked which language is their native, many of them answer "Ukrainian". In Russian. Most likely, they confuse it, taking it as an attribute of their identification with the state of Ukraine, and so the statistics get dramatically distorted. Kiev with over 70% Ukrainian speakers would be a nightmare for native Kievans. – Rurik Mar 23 '18 at 16:33
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Was Russia really able to solve its 'Ukraine' problem by invasion?
wasn't invasion of Ukraine a miscalculation and waste of time by Russia?

Yes, there was a good evidence that Russia was able to stop Ukraine by invading it, just like Russia has successfully prevented Georgia's Eurointegration by armed invasion to Georgia in 2008, with no consequences for the Russia itself.
No, not waste of time. Stopping Ukraine's Eurointegration was Russia's last chance to avoid its own fall, both as an empire and as the unite state. They understood it very well, and they did everything to keep their own country from collapsing.
Yes, they miscalculated about the world's response on their actions this time.


Before expanding on the above, let me first say that some key points from the referenced video are not very accurate. Not that I'm saying it is deliberately false, but it is misleading as it forms a wrong cause-and-effect picture in the minds of its audience.

For example, Al Jazeera's video puts presidential elections (7-June-2014) before the Russia's armed invasion to Crimea (began on 20-Feb-2014, even according to Russia's official propaganda). This may make someone think that removal Yanukovich may be the cause to Russia's armed invasion to Crimea, but it was the opposite.

Russia's medal for invading Crimea
Russia's medal for invading Crimea that clearly says that the Russia's armed invasion to Crimea started on 20.02.2014 when the marionette president Yanukovich still remained in power (Yanukovich fled Ukraine two days later, on 22-Feb-2014).

Another wrong statement is that Ukraine is "split" between Russian and Ukrainian nationals. This has been debunked many times, incl. this site, so let me not reiterate this.

There are several other inaccuracies, too. Again, I don't say that Al Jazeera is lying, but one should always keep in mind such nuances before forming their understanding about what's going on.


So, let's get back to "miscalculation and waste of time by Russia". Let us see what goals the Russia sets.

Russia counts itself an empire. Putin personally said that the collapse of Russia's previous project, the "USSR", was "the biggest catastrophe of the century". Most obviously, he sets his goal to revert that.

An empire only make sense if it has colonies. Highly preferable if it expands (e.g., it obtains new colonies, not only keeping the old ones). This is expanded by Lenin in his numerous works, and nothing has changed since then¹.

Ukraine was the key colony to Russia. Many people underestimate the role of Ukraine and Ukrainians in the history of Russia. In pre-technology era, Ukraine was the key of Russian supply of agriculture. Since 1930's, the core Russian technology, science, and manufacture was based in Ukraine or developed by Ukrainian nationals² who were enslaved in Russia's concentration camps (so-called "sharashka's").
The Wikipedia article has numerous sources referenced that confirm this claim³.

Invasion to Ukraine. If let Ukraine go, the above factors make Russia collapse quickly and inevitably:

  • No more money influx from Ukrainian corrupted economy to Russia's organized crime;
  • No more qualified personnel on Russia's oil and gas mines⁴;
  • Liberated Ukraine would effectively cancel out the entire Russia's influence in Europe; No more "puppet Neo-Nazi" parties in European countries can lead to close ties with Russia. Keep in mind that it also instantly invalidates billions of money the Russia has been investing into the corrupted European officials since 1920's;
  • Liberated Ukraine would be a vivid example for enslaved nations who are now part of Russian "Federation" to fight for their own freedom (Buryats, Chechens, Koryaks, Yakuts, and hundreds more);

Russia understood the above factors very well and it did everything possible to achieve that goal — namely, they invaded Ukraine to force it remain a colony. This can't be called a miscalculation.

The international response. However, they indeed miscalculated the international response. They expected the world will be mute. And they had reasons to think so, consider zero world's response on Russia's armed invasion to Georgia in 2008. No "Tomawahk" flied into the window of Kremlin :-) , not even sanctions were directed against the Russian war criminals.

They expected that the West will prefer keeping "business as usual".


Summary

The Russians have not been taught lessons after they invaded Georgia, leave alone smaller armed conflicts like Nagorny Karabakh, Transnistria, and many others. They has solid reasons to think that this time the world's response would be the same (= no response).


P.S. One more thing

Ukraine's NATO membership is almost inevitable

This became true as a result of the world's support of Ukraine after the Russian invasion. As of February 2014, there was neither popular demand to NATO among the Ukrainians, nor the NATO's intent to expand to a blatantly corrupted colony of Russia.


References

  1. Lenin, "Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism"
  2. Take just a single area, rocketry and space tech. The vast majority of the Russian rocket engine pioneers were Ukrainians: Vladimir Chelomey, Valentin Glushko, Yuri Kondratyuk, and Sergei Korolev, who worked many years in Russian concentration camp.

    Sergei Korolev after the Russian concentration camp
    Sergei Korolev in Butyrka jail next day after return from {the Russian concentration camp on} Kolyma {river}, 29 Feb 1940

  3. The only short period when another country was a more important colony is between 1945 and mid-1950's when the Russia-occupied part of Germany was the most essential source of technology (incl. Russia's acquisition of atom power, rocketry, Kalashnikov gun, naval fleet techs, etc.)

  4. No proofs possible, but my friend who obtains a high position in Russian gas industry calls Urengoy no other that "little Ternopil" because of so many Ukrainian engineers are working there.

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    Some data, some affirmations not backed by sources (no, a Russian medal is not a source, specially when it confirms more reputable sources edition.cnn.com/2015/02/10/europe/ukraine-war-how-we-got-here/…), some recounting of past grievances and some nationalistic fantasies (no, it does not seem as if Russia is on the brink of collapse; and actually for most a collapsed Russia would be a worse problem than Putin's Russia). I understand that your feelings about the issue are intense and that has stopped me from downvoting, but the answer is awful, I ask you for a better version. – SJuan76 Jul 15 '17 at 21:04
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    @SJuan76, Also no, CNN can't be a more reputable source than the Russia's Ministry of so-called "Defence", if it is about Russian officials' self-conviction. – bytebuster Jul 16 '17 at 0:20
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    For the point of Ukrainian workers in oil fields and mines, I fail to see the link. Unless you are claiming that they are somehow kidnapped/forced to work at gunpoint. Not only because I sincerely doubt that they are irreplaceable, but also because if they are working in Russia just because they get a better salary there than in Ukraine, there is no need to attack Ukraine for them to stay there (which also would explain why there are so many of them there). GDP per capita seems 10x in Russia than in Ukraine, so I guess salaries are considerable better there... – SJuan76 Jul 16 '17 at 2:29
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    For the much vaunted "international support" for Ukraine, well, there have been economical sanctions against Russia (which I do support) but let's not forget the total absence of any military support. In this aspect, it is not as different from the situation in the 2008 Georgia war as you claim it to be. – SJuan76 Jul 16 '17 at 2:44
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    In short, you tell a tale of Russia's own existence being dependent on controlling Ukraine (despite Russia being bigger, more populated, and waaaay richer than Ukraine) only for it to be defeated by the brave Ukrainians (and the "international support"). Yet despite that tale Russia's operations (which I do not condone and are absolutely illegal) have been way more limited than you would expect from such a tale(10.000 people killed in three years is not a small number, but certainly not what you would get if this was a "do or die" war for Russia -or, FWIW, for Luxembourg-). – SJuan76 Jul 16 '17 at 2:56

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