For those who have been following the events in Ukraine, the reasons for Russia’s intervention are pretty clear, but they also point to what is likely to occur in the future.

Russia has always seen Ukraine as part of Russia. Henry Kissinger wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post: “Russian history began in what was called Kievan-Rus. The Russian religion spread from there. Ukraine has been part of Russia for centuries, and their histories were intertwined before then. Some of the most important battles for Russian freedom, starting with the Battle of Poltava in 1709, were fought on Ukrainian soil.” This doesn’t excuse Russian action, but it is important in understanding them.

STRATFOR has an excellent article on the geopolitics of the region.  Geopolitics doesn’t explain or predict all foreign affairs but it is a very helpful theory in understanding the international order.  In short, Russia doesn’t have a natural obstacle between it and Europe inviting invaders, like Napoleon and Hitler, who were defeated by over extending themselves deep into Russia, and by Old Father Winter. Ukraine is key to creating that space.

Sevastopol is what passes for Russia’s ONLY warm water port. It’s a poor solution. Turkey, a member of NATO, controls the Strait of Dardanelles. If Russia doesn’t get its Navy out of the Black Sea before war starts, it has to run the extremely risky option of trying to force the strait under fire to get to the Mediterranean, which has another choke point called Gibraltar. Like I said, it’s a poor warm water port, but it’s the only one Russia has that doesn’t need a slow icebreaker to exit during the winter.

Sevastopol’s importance alone was, likely enough, justification to the realpolitik world for Russia’s invasion of Crimea. Realpolitik diplomacy is based primarily on power, and on practical and material factors and considerations. Crimea was given to Ukraine in 1954 under Khrushchev, who was born three miles from the Ukrainian border and grew up in Ukraine.

If Russia had limited itself to Crimea, it is arguable that the West may have accepted it. No matter, Crimea wasn’t Russia’s only goal. You don’t put on an exercise of 150,000 troops all along the border of Ukraine and create demonstrations for Russia’s intervention if you don’t have larger goals. Crimea tested the waters for future Russian action, which became readily apparent.

There appears to be a “tourist industry” sprouting in Ukraine, where Russians travel to Ukraine to participate in demonstrations calling for a wider Russian invasion. Check out the New York Times piece on Aleksey Khudyakov, a pro-Kremlin Muscovite, and others who traveled to Donetsk “to watch and maybe to give some advice.” The Washington Post reports a similar phenomenon in Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia and Mykolayiv outside of Ukrainian Crimea. Who travels to a foreign country spontaneously on the eve of an invasion to “protest?”

Ukraine’s extremely measured response to Russia’s invasion of Crimea effectively removed “protecting Russians” as any sort of believable excuse for Russia’s invasion. The lack of dead bodies, along with the West’s increasing actions, is giving Russia pause. Don’t be fooled – Russia cannot allow for a truly independent Ukraine on its border. Besides the defensive buffer of space Russia requires geographically, Russia also requires an ideological buffer.