Atlantic Magazine speculates that Mr. Putin may have a rather different objective than some thought. He may not really care whether he can annex territory in Eastern Ukraine. He may merely want to “freeze” the conflict there – preventing it from ending. Why? To destabilize the regime in Kev.
Before addressing whether this could be the strategic goal, we might take a step back and think about the idea of prolonging rather than resolving conflict. Most of us would not pursue this approach. But there may be tactical advantages to not ending crisis.
If you can keep a conflict going (without expending too much effort in the process), you prolong the agony of those who want and perhaps need a solution. They get worn out. And the conflict becomes a rallying cry for your supporters. The urgency makes power relations more rigid.
So is this Putin’s game? Well, with his military now openly inside Ukraine, he has signaled that he does not want the separatists to be defeated. One can infer that he wants them to stay there. Why? Good question. The only reasoning that I can think of is that Ukraine doesn’t want them there. That is, Putin wants a destabilized Ukraine.