Vladimir Putin’s successes in Syria have not encouraged any heretofore latent tendency toward subtlety.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius last week protested Russia’s decision to bring trade with Ukraine to a crawl in punishment for Ukraine’s increasingly European stance, and its plan to sign an Association Agreement opening trade with the EU in November.
Lithuania holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, and more than most of Europe, understands what Ukraine is experiencing.
Russia’s terribly mild response was to impose the same border checks on Lithuania.
Lithuania summoned the Russian ambassador for a dressing-down this week, an act that will no doubt cause Putin to quake in terror the very instant it is backed by a military larger than Russia’s. Until then, Moscow will likely revel in its ability to impose its will, once again, on Lithuania, which thrives on its strategic proximity between Russia and the rest of the European Union. Lithuania’s economy is not so much dependent on as almost dependent on EU-Russia trade, as its transport, warehousing, and hospitality industries have come to rely on a flow of commerce that is likely to be disrupted repeatedly over the coming months.
It is perhaps too much to ask, but one hopes that the rest of Europe is watching as Lithuania is ritually humiliated for standing up for free trade and peaceful conflict resolution. The stakes for all of Europe in Ukraine’s — and the rest of the former Soviet republics desperate for European membership — bid for the West could not be clearer. Russia is determined to have an empire, and is willing to extract enormous costs well beyond what the average European can imagine to get there.
Putin has developed something of an air of invincibility, but no human is invincible. It is time for Europe and the rest of the West to dare Putin to starve his people to death for an empire he can never really have, to waste Russia’s decreasingly valuable petrochemical wealth to try to seize lands he lacks the men to hold, to test once and for all whether a man’s reach can exceed his grasp even among nations.
If they can summon the courage, they may yet be amazed.
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