One could easily make an argument that the expansion of NATO provided Putin with a cover to pursue his own geopolitical agenda of reestablishing a 21st century Russian empire, extending far beyond its present borders and shorn of any democratic features. It’s no secret that he never recognized the sovereign rights of Ukraine and coveted its inclusion into a greater Russia.
Up until recently though, an invasion of Ukraine wasn’t opportune from Putin’s vantage point. It would have appeared as naked aggression to the world and likely garnered little support from even states friendly to Russia. But the ill considered and dangerous march of NATO to Ukraine’s borders changed that calculus in Putin’s mind. It allowed him, he thought, to present Russia as an aggrieved party and reluctant aggressor against Ukraine, while pointing the finger at the oligarchies in U.S. and Western Europe and NATO as the real culprit. But his calculus is proving to be wrong. The world is repelled by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.