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According to Tikhon Dzyadko, a deputy editor with the independent Russian TV station DozhdTV, even Vladimir Putin doesn't know the answer to that question. In an insightful analysis of the Russian incursion into Ukraine over at The New Republic, Dzyadko writes:
It's enough to make your head spin, especially if you're trying to think of it as of a coherent policy. But it isn't. And there's been no logic in it, either. When it comes to Ukraine, there hasn't been any for years. [...]
There is a Russian proverb: "To spite mom, I will freeze my ears off." It refers to a child who won't wear a hat in the cold simply for the sake of disobeying his mother. Russian foreign policy functions exactly in this way: Again and again, Moscow makes decisions that are most detrimental to Moscow itself. Elegantly juggling various principles of international law, the Russian government has been steadily spoiling its relations with its international partners. [The New Republic]
Psychoanalyzing Putin's decision to send troops to Crimea has become the topic du jour in the last few days. But Dzyadko makes an interesting case that Putin more or less aimlessly blundered his way into this mess — and that his actions could backfire spectacularly.