What’s going to happen in Ukraine? I think the most probable short-term outcome is that Putin will wait and see how things unfold, both politically and economically. However, if Ukraine shifts politically towards Europe I believe that it’s almost inconceivable that Russia will just sit back and let this happen.From my perspective Russia is driven by two key factors.First, psychologically, Russia is still traumatized by the loss of or, at least the dilution of, its empire and sphere of influence. Russia would like both back and I expect geographical expansion to be a real possibility. The fact that Russia’s Black Sea fleet is still based in Ukraine only adds to these tensions.
Second, Russia has demographic problems that could derail any economic promise. Since 1992 the number of Russians dying has outnumbered those being born by a massive 50%. Indeed official figures suggest the country has shrunk by 5% since 1993 and life expectancy is marginally lower than in 1961. By 2050, Yemen’s population will theoretically be larger than Russia’s. If Russia can add to its population by geographical expansion I’d expect it to do so. One might also add that Russia’s current economic and political power largely stems from its energy reserves. At the moment high oil and gas prices put Putin in a strong position – possibly to do nothing – but if energy prices collapse Putin’s legitimacy could be challenged and his response might be to indulge in diversionary tactics, such as invading Ukraine. Time will tell.