The last year has shown that Putin perceives that his strengths are paired with Western weaknesses; if the West is to seriously contest with him, it must become serious.
Today, Ukraine stands as the border between Russia’s expansionist drive and the West. Where does Poland fit in?
Putin only cares about controlling vassal states from a large enough territory and population to maintain that control, as every Russian Empire has ever done.
Gazprom fuels Russian military and political power; broken of that, Russia will be merely Venezuela with less political stability.
It is now reasonably safe to say that Vladimir Putin believes he is the Emperor of Eastern Europe. It is also safe to say he’s right.
Russia’s actions of the last week have reminded the region once again that although the giant slumbers often, when it wakes, bad things happen to the good and the bad alike.
While all eyes are on Ukraine as we write this, there are other glimmers of hope in the former Soviet Union: Azerbaijan, Moldova, even Georgia, all have a chance to break loose to the West. (Ukraine’s fate is uncertain for now.)
Ukraine today is in chaos because the West is clumsily trying out inept Realpolitik against Russia.
There is a disturbing tendency to treat the legacy of the Soviet Union as the sort of unfortunate thing that happens in “one of modern history’s pivotal experiments.” It is not. It is a legacy that endures to this day.
The combination of growing Georgian cynicism, Russian and Russian-derived money, growing Russian assertiveness, and European incompetence is undoing the nascent Eastern Partnership faster than European leaders realize.