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Western efforts to bring Russia in from the cold have largely failed.

For hundreds of years, Russia has geographically expanded by hundreds of miles, yet the Kremlin is not satisfied. Russia’s war in Ukraine is a continuation of this geographic battle. Russia’s war is incited by a mindset that believes its geography is suffocating it. Russia’s destiny is more tied to the East than policymakers in Washington and the Kremlin realize. Isolating Russia doesn’t corner the country but pushes it into the arms of Beijing.

Russia’s vulnerable geography has usually helped its autocratic leaders to justify their wars. Despite advances in technology, geography has again obliged its inhabitants to resort to violence. The assumption that Vladimir Putin as a former KGB officer would only resort to soft means to achieve his aims is far-fetched. Putin’s rise was helped by Russia’s war against the Chechens. Russia’s subsequent invasions in Georgia and now Ukraine have kept Putin high in the polls. After all, the Kremlin has voters to please.

NATO should not be surprised that Russia was willing to flatten much of Ukraine over the past three weeks. Russia’s war in Ukraine is similar to its war in Syria, though Moscow and Washington have exchanged roles. The former helped a brutal Syrian regime survive while in Ukraine it works to topple a democratically elected government. If the Kremlin could help a foreign regime survive, it might well be able to replace one in its own backyard.

Moscow will not back down until it is assured that it has a pro-Kremlin government installed in Kyiv. But Ukraine allied with NATO has the potential to undo Russia’s past achievements elsewhere. Geopolitically, Russia’s fleet in the Black Sea is interdependent on its presence in Syria and the Mediterranean. This explains why Putin immediately intervened in Syria after it invaded Crimea.

In the past, the Kremlin was satisfied with European dependence on its energy as a way to protect its borders. The Kremlin probably viewed Europe’s dependence on Russian energy as a means to counter NATO’s eastward expansion. The Russian invasion of Ukraine reveals the ineffectiveness of Western sanctions, as long as they had extensive trade links with the Russian Federation. Targeting Russian energy companies is equal to bringing the effects of war to the streets of Berlin and Paris rather than to officials in the Kremlin.

Last year, Russian energy revenues stood at $119 billion. Putin views a European Ukraine as a threat to both Russia’s national security and its economy. Russia loses close to $2 billion in oil revenues for every dollar fall in the price of oil.

Russia’s access to international waters through Ukraine is helped by its presence in Syria. The Syrian port of Tartus is of strategic importance to the Kremlin. The port is essential for Russia to develop a commercial fleet and a powerful navy. Russia looks to the Mediterranean as a geopolitical reward that will make Moscow a much more significant player in Europe, increasing its position in trade between Europe, the Middle East, and Asia and frontier security for Europe. NATO is many times stronger than the Russian army, a deficit the Kremlin has tried to fill by overdosing Europe with its energy. Russia’s ability to protect its western borders beyond Ukraine and Belarus is not attractive. Germany demonstrated the vulnerability of the Russian Eastern front in 1941.

Fearing an invasion from its eastern borders, Russia has resorted to the old playbook. The Kremlin believes that it needed to invade Ukraine to secure its eastern flank. Confronting NATO requires the Kremlin to move closer to China. Washington’s lack of accommodation to Russian interests will further drive the Kremlin towards Beijing as it did with Iran.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine will help China to move further into Europe. Chinese companies would be the number one choice for rebuilding a Russian-occupied Ukraine. Now that almost all Western brands have left Russia this has provided a golden opportunity for Chinese companies to replace them. Although Chinese companies come with cybersecurity challenges to Russia, a country that is sensitive about its security. Nevertheless, Kremlin’s war in Ukraine has come to solidify the anti-West bloc.

As the West works to Isolate Russia, Moscow will gravitate towards Beijing but with terms favorable to China, because Moscow’s options will be limited. The West’s efforts in the last three decades to bring Russia back into the Western community of states have failed due to Russian insecurity.

Talib Hishmat Ali is a researcher covering International Relations. His work has been published in Culture Project and various Kurdish magazines. He is the former manager of Prist Organization for development. He is currently a researcher at Kurdistan Conflict and Crisis Research Center Iraq.

Farhang Faraydoon Namdar is a researcher and journalist covering the Middle East and International Affairs. His work has been published in the Jerusalem Post, The National Interest, and various Kurdish magazines. He was the former Editor in Chief of the Birst Newspaper. He has translated books and articles including Fukuyama’s 'State Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century' into Kurdish. Currently, he is a researcher at the Kurdistan Conflict and Crisis Research Center (KCCRC) focusing on International Relations.