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.
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.
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.)
In any democracy worth its name, these men would be behind bars for using force to get them what democratic elections did not. Because they have powerful international backers, they are not.
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.
Dealing in Eastern European finance is a fast way to learn that outside of a few countries, the advantages of European ties are ephemeral at best.
This does nothing to encourage the West’s attempts to portray itself as an inevitable and calm future for Ukraine, which until just days ago was its entire foreign policy in the East.
Expect Gagauzia to increasingly agitate for independence, and expect Moscow to back that play as it backs Transnistria now.
The impetus on Brussels now is to avoid another blunder. Ukraine is not lost to the European Union, but Armenia to all practical purposes is, a victim of Russian bullying and its own sins come home to roost.
A recent Armenian offensive along the border — after a steady uptick in violence over the last few years — is a sign that peace is no longer in danger of breaking out.