There are two questions here. There's what does Russia want? And there’s what does Putin want? And the one that’s clearly dominating everything is: what does Putin want? Unfortunately President Putin sees the world in a very conspiratorial and paranoid way. To understand this, we need to go back to Soviet times, when Putin grew up and was a member of the KGB. The secret police saw spies and problems and enemies around every corner. That’s formed his psyche.
"He’s driven by the idea that Russia must be seen to be one of the leading powers on the world stage. All of Putin’s actions in recent years are showing that"
The two words ‘confrontation’ and ‘compromise’ are crucial in the whole Russian situation. Throughout the 1990s there was a desire to seek a dialogue with the West and make compromises. Things were really good. No one in the 1990’s in Russia talked about the West as an enemy. But at the end of 1999 when Boris Yeltsin stepped down, he looked for someone to replace him who would guarantee him and his family immunity from prosecution for the rest of their lives.
He found Putin. The very first decree of acting President Vladimir Putin on the 31st of December 1999 was exactly that: amnesty for Yeltsin and his crew. By naming Putin as his successor, Yeltsin handed power over to the KGB (now called the FSB). The KGB had more power in Russia than it had ever had either in Soviet times or in czarist times. There was nothing above them.
"When Boris Yeltsin stepped down, he looked for someone to replace him who would guarantee him and his family immunity from prosecution for the rest of their lives"
So what we've had since 2008 has been a return to Soviet fears: suspicions, mistrust, distrust. Even to the point of hatred of the West. We’ve now got this situation where you have a leader who sees enemies everywhere, who doesn't believe in compromise but who does believe in confrontation. He’s also driven by the idea that Russia must be seen to be one of the leading powers on the world stage. All of Putin’s actions in recent years are showing that.
So what does Russia want? Russia is made up of a largely sheltered population. The majority of Russians never see a foreigner. And as a result, they are easily led by the man in the Kremlin. There's also Russian history, which says that a good firm face at the top is what they need.
So at the moment what Russia wants are what Putin wants are very similar. It's not good news for the West.