Russia is known for its chess grandmasters. It is also known for its high-level, multi-factored war planning. You know that Putin examined every single possibility of his war in Ukraine multiple times. One of the biggest factors in his decision must have been NATO’s probable response. There are numerous data points that suggested NATO would not respond in a unified voice.
Large portions of Europe are reliant on Russian energy because of the push to move to green power. Cleaner energy is an admirable goal, but the technology is not there yet for a sustainable grid. The sun does not always shine, and the wind does not always blow. As a result, countries like Germany are forced to import energy to make up the shortfall. Putin probably believed that this gave him some leverage to sow discord among the NATO partners.
On the military front, NATO has been ignoring its armed forces responsibilities for years. Former President Donald Trump famously called out Europe for not spending enough money on defense. One of the highest members of the German army has said publicly that the country can barely field an army. If NATO were unable to project its traditional amounts of military power that might lead some of the members near the conflict, like Poland for example, to avoid punishing Russian for fear of being invaded themselves. Surprisingly, Poland has been one of the most vocal critics of Putin and the war.
Finally, Putin might have interpreted President Joe Biden’s “minor incursion” speech to signify tacit acceptance of an invasion. If the United States were intending to let Russia invade, the rest of NATO would follow its lead. Instead, the United States has given billions of dollars of humanitarian aid and arms to Ukraine. The Biden administration has also led the rest of the world in imposing some of the strictest financial sanctions in history on Russia.
No one will ever know the exact reasons for Putin proceeding with the invasion but if he was betting on a fractured NATO, he got it dead wrong.