Shortly after the war started on 20 February 2014, Russia established the two proxy “self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. Despite calls to be incorporated into the Russian Federation, Putin kept his proxies at arm’s length for eight years. In contrast to recent statements, and right up to the point when he “recognized their independence” on 21 February 2022, he insisted that the territories were an integrated part of Ukraine.
This allowed him to conduct a low-intensity war in Ukraine for more than eight years while upholding a “hope for a peaceful resolution” which helped ensure that the West did not provide Ukraine with the defense support it desperately needed to rebuild its Armed Forces.
The strategy also helped undermine Ukraine through the parallel and synchronized use of both military and non-military means (hybrid war). It had a direct impact on people’s costs of living, trust in government, the functioning of institutions, international investments, and international perception of Ukraine and willingness to support the country. It tried to exploit the protest potential of the Ukrainian population.