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I’m a former Moscow correspondent. Don’t let Vladimir Putin fool you, Russia’s war in Ukraine is only about one thing

If you stroll across the streets of Moscow, you’ll ultimately scent the faint odor of gasoline.

It’s as ever current within the air round Russia’s capital as it’s central to the nation’s economy, infrastructure and geopolitical posture.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has spelled out a nationalist rationale for his nation’s navy incursion into two restive provinces in japanese Ukraine largely managed by Kremlin-backed separatists, however it’s primarily about defending Moscow’s vitality pursuits. 

That was true in 2014, when Russia seized Crimea and I used to be a Moscow correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, for which I wrote dozens of tales in regards to the insurgency in Donetsk and Luhansk that Russia helped foment. And it stays true now.

To perceive the Kremlin’s motivations with reference to its smaller, impoverished neighbor, the important thing truth to know is that Russia provides 40% of Europe’s heating gas provides — particularly pure gasoline.

Any crimp on Russia’s ability to access the European market is a threat to its economic security.

To get it there, Russia depends totally on two growing old pipeline networks, considered one of which runs by way of Belarus and the opposite by way of Ukraine. For this, Russia pays Ukraine round $2 billion a 12 months in transit charges.

Russia is a petrostate and depends on oil and pure gasoline gross sales for about 60% of its export income and 40% of its complete finances expenditures. Any crimp on Russia’s means to entry the European market is a menace to its financial safety.

In the Kremlin’s view, a swap of allegiance by Kiev to the West — be it an financial affiliation settlement with the European Union like Ukraine was on the verge of signing in 2014, and even the trace of becoming a member of NATO — is near an act of conflict.

In my three years overlaying Russia, I watched because the nation slowly withdrew into itself after Putin returned to workplace for what was then his third time period as president.

Gone have been prior efforts to intertwine Russia’s economy into the worldwide system and encourage international funding. As towering skyscrapers rose in Moscow atop a pile of oil money, Putin’s authorities turned extra backwards-looking and remoted.

In Ukraine, meanwhile, many were growing increasingly ill at ease with the impoverished state of their country.

In Ukraine, in the meantime, many have been rising more and more sick comfy with the impoverished state of their nation and highly-corrupt political system because it languished locked in a type of Soviet-era limbo below Russian domination.

As Ukrainians seemed to rising dwelling requirements in locations like Poland and Latvia that had joined NATO and the EU many puzzled why they couldn’t have the identical for themselves.

This is the place Putin’s nationalistic impulses kick in. He views the autumn of the Soviet Union because the “greatest geopolitical tragedy” of the previous century and the frenzy of  former-Eastern Bloc nations into embrace of the European Union and even NATO, as an incredible humiliation.

He has drawn a line within the sand with nations that border Russia, invading Georgia in 2008 when it hinted at becoming a member of NATO, and shifting to destabilize Ukraine when it moved to determine nearer financial ties with Europe.

Domestically, Putin has offered the incursions into Ukraine on purely nationalistic grounds — even going thus far this weekend as to dismiss Ukraine’s historical past as an unbiased nation as a falsehood.

While Ukrainians and Russians share religions and ethnicities, they converse totally different (albeit related) languages. And whereas Russians have seen their high quality of life enhance awash in petro-rubles within the a long time below Putin’s rule, Ukrainians have been mired in poverty and slowed down by misrule.

It isn’t any marvel why many Ukrainians look yearn to be unmoored from their larger, Imperialist neighbor.

But for Putin and his cohort of oligarchs, Ukrainian self-determination will not be actually on the desk. Not when it places in danger the circulate of cash that has saved them in energy. 

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