Vladimir Putin is doubtless unable to sleep at night: NATO has promised even-greater levels of engagement with Kyiv, as well as some cooperation and communication at the highest levels.
Late last week, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg demanded that Russia remove its men and equipment from Eastern Ukraine, a demand that was slightly late coming this year — the normal toothless demand comes earlier in the spring, along with some vague words about future talks. But this time, Stoltenberg (one of the guys who wears a suit and tie, whom the Russians do not confuse with a real general) waited until June to demand something everyone knows won’t happen, backed by consequences that aren’t really consequences.
There is a general sense in the West, especially at the policy level, that there’s nothing to do about Russia’s ongoing, unofficial invasion of Ukraine. That remains absolutely true as long as no one is going to do anything about it. There’s also a sense that Ukrainians in the Donbass are happy about Russia’s arrival; while there are some for whom this is true, the giant mass of Ukrainian refugees currently sitting in Poland suggests that just possibly, not every Donetsk resident is giddy about being Vlad Putin’s serf.
Stoltenberg’s remarks, delivered to a meeting of defense ministers, were not and are not about Ukraine; they’re about the world after the West let Ukraine slip away, a world in which Russia is openly and nakedly threatening its old vassals while the West levels mild sanctions on peripheral figures and prosecutes Ukrainian oligarchs for occasionally having tea with their Russian counterparts. Those remarks were aimed at the Baltics and Poland, NATO members whom Moscow has been unsubtly reminding that they are in the Kremlin’s way; it is no coincidence that just before that speech, those same defense ministers voted to move combat battalions to both.
Whatever Putin’s many sins — and there is little doubt that he will roast in Hell soon enough in the scheme of things — he has forced the West to admit that it just stopped caring years ago, and the world belongs to those who care. Decades of peace and softness, the apex of which arguably came in ignoring former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s pleas for help in the face of Russian threats, had a cost: Today, Moscow has more sway in international affairs, in its backyard and elsewhere, than it’s had in two-and-a-half decades.
And NATO realizes it.
So tomorrow, and the next day, and 2020, as the Donetsk Republic votes to join the Russian Federation and Kyiv continues to fight over which politicians are more corrupt, and NATO reinforces itself along its periphery, we can all thank Putin for teaching the world the oldest of lessons, the hardest of ways, even as we hope he rots for it.
Because even then, the only consequences of his actions will only be in the hereafter — though the sting of another series of sincere speeches by well-coifed and well-dressed men and women will doubtless haunt him for seconds to come.
Image Copyright NATO