Russian President Vladimir Putin, who came to power in 2000 has been working steadily and systematically for the reversal of what he considers the humiliating disintegration of the Soviet Union thirty years ago.
Putin demands that Ukraine is permanently prevented from exercising its sovereign rights to join the Western alliance and that NATO actions such as the stationing of troops in countries that were part of the Soviet Union be curtailed.
NATO said that the demands were unacceptable and that Russia is not threatened by joining the alliance. Putin's critics claim that he is really afraid of NATO but rather the emergence and prosperity of Ukraine, which could be an alternative to Putin’s increasingly autocratic rule. This might appeal to Russians.
Russia's current demands are based upon Putin's long-standing sense of grievance, his rejection of Ukraine/Belarus as sovereign, independent countries, and rather as part of an historic Russian linguistic, Orthodox motherland.
Putin raised his hand in a millennium-spanning treatise titled "The Historical Unity between Russians and Ukrainians" last summer. Putin insisted that today's separation of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus into separate countries is artificial. This was due in large part to political mistakes made during the Soviet period, and in Ukraine, an "anti-Russian project" supported since 2014 by Washington.
His Russocentric view of the region is a critical test for U.S. president Joe Biden. He already has to deal with multiple crises domestically -- the coronavirus pandemic and resurgence inflation, as well as a divided nation where a large portion of the electorate refuses acknowledge his presidency, and a Congress that has blocked many his social and climate goals.
Biden has not ruled out military intervention in support of Ukraine. Instead, he has used intense diplomacy to rally Western allies to support what they promise will be harsh and painful sanctions against Russia if Russia invades Ukraine. He has acknowledged that he may have difficulty keeping all his allies on board depending on the outcome of the situation.
With little response, the Russian leader invaded Ukraine once before. Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. It has also supported pro-Russian Ukrainian separatists in fighting the Kyiv government. This quiet war has resulted in 14,000 deaths, with more than 3,000 civilians.
Putin's strategy was to try to regain the power and the sphere of influence that Russia lost after the fall of Berlin Wall. This is at least for the former Soviet Union. Putin has reacted to Western intrusion into the countries of former Warsaw Pact, which was once a buffer for the USSR from NATO.
The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Hungary were granted NATO membership in 1999. In 2004, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined the alliance.
The Soviet dominance of post-World War II was felt by the countries and they were keen to join the Western defensive alliance or the Western free-market to ensure their independence and prosperity.
Both Georgia and Ukraine want to join NATO for similar reasons. Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, has requested that Western leaders address Ukraine's request to join NATO with more urgency to signal Moscow that Russia will protect Ukraine's independence.
Russia claims that NATO expansion is in violation of its commitments after the fall of the Berlin Wall. This was in return for Moscow's consent to the reunification Germany. Officials from the United States deny that such promises were made.
Putin didn't oppose NATO at all during his first term. In a BBC interview in 2000, Putin suggested that Russia might be interested in joining NATO. Years later, he stated that he had discussed the possibility with President Bill Clinton prior to Clinton's departure in 2001.
Putin now sees the alliance to be a threat to Russia's security.
The newer NATO members are the exact opposite. Russia is seen as the greatest threat by them, with its largest military and vast nuclear arsenal. This is why they joined NATO so quickly, fearing that Russia would reimpose its control.
Month-long protests against Alexander Lukashenko, the long-serving Belarusian leader, erupted after a disputed election. Lukashenko, who was beaten by his people and not recognized as a legitimate president of the West, has been drawn closer to Putin's protection.
In a similar vein, Russia sent troops into Kazakhstan to assist the president of the former Soviet republic in restoring order. This was part of a peacekeeping mission under the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization alliance. Since then, the troops have left the country.
Putin's goal was to reimpose relations with Russia's former Soviet neighbours, while challenging and dividing West. Instead of leading Russia in a more democratic direction he seems to have rejected the idea of liberal democracy being a sustainable model. He sees it as something the West uses to further its own goals and humiliate its enemies.
He pledged to restore Russia's greatness and came to power. He seized economic control from the oligarchs and crushed the rebels in Chechnya. He also gradually strangled independent media and increased military investment. He has also banned Russia's remaining human rights organisations.
His secret services, which extend beyond Russia's borders have been responsible for assassinations of opponents and interfered in foreign elections. They also offered clandestine support to Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign in Britain, and other right-wing European parties opposing European integration.
In 2019, he told an interviewer that liberal democracy was "obsolete," meaning that the Western idea of liberal democracy is no longer relevant. He believes that Ukrainians can be independent and choose their own alliances.
"All subterfuges are associated with the anti Russia project are obvious to us. We will not allow Russia to use our historical territories or the people who live there with us. He wrote last summer that he would tell those who make such an attempt to destroy their country, "he wrote in his essay.
"I believe that Ukraine can only be truly sovereign if it is partnered with Russia."
Biden, NATO, and the European Union face the challenge of defending Ukraine's West-West vision. It is also up to them to decide whether or not Putin's nationalist ambitions will be successful.