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.
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.)
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.
The Eastern Partnership failed because it was not an Eastern Partnership, it was an Eastern Condescension.
2014 will be the year that Europe’s mettle is truly tested.
Georgia is now indisputably tilted more toward Moscow than it has ever been. It continues to claim a European future, but its dominant political class is coming to see the value of Moscow not merely as a trading and foreign policy partner, but as a governing model.
While Georgia has gone very far to show its European bona fides, its recent actions speak of a nation not so much hungry for Europe as expecting it.
Each day is a new day. If Europe fails to seize its chances at the end of this month, or if the hurdles before the Eastern Partnership nations are too great, Putin may yet have another chance — the only chance he needs.
As with Ukraine, Putin is testing Europe’s resolve to see its expansion plans, and the dreams on which it was made, stand.
Tehran has ruthlessly exploited its near environs almost perfectly, challenging halting Western inroads in the area through soft power and trade while also never angering Moscow, a jealous if still-wounded imperial giant.