Three likely answers: 1) Putin wants to "gather the Russian lands" in the sense Solzhenitsyn expressed thirty years ago: bringing the three Slavic republics—Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine—along with Kazakhstan all together in a unitary state.
Belarus, as far as I can gather, is already there—just a Russian puppet state. Ukraine has been more resistant; hence this current assault. Kazakhstan is big, resource-rich, and moderately Russified—twenty percent ethnic Russian, mostly up along the border with Russia, says Wikipedia.
Likely answer 2): Putin wants to recreate the USSR, the collapse of which he once called "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century" [Annual Address to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, April 25, 2005].
That would be a more serious matter for the USA. The USSR included the Baltic states—Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. They are all now in NATO; so under Article 5 of the NATO treaty, if Putin were to attack them, we'd be obliged to join in defending them.
Those of us who've been arguing for years that the U.S.A. should get out of NATO have been fond of posing rhetorical questions like: "What proportion of U.S. voters are willing to see our soldiers die fighting for Lithuania?" and "Why is defending Lithuania's border with Belarus more important than defending our own southern border?"
If Putin is bent on recreating the USSR, these questions may not be merely rhetorical much longer.
Likely answer 3) Putin wants to recreate the 19th-century Russian Empire.
That would certainly be in accord with Putin's Great-Russian nationalism. It would, however, mean re-occupying Poland. I seriously doubt Putin is contemplating that.
There is also the possibility that Putin's ambition is actually less than to gather up the Russian lands.
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