Vladimir Putin has left the West with no choice but to face reality, said Anne Applebaum in Slate.com.“Russia will never be like us.” Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, U.S. policy toward our former rival superpower has been premised on the notion that Russia is at its heart “a flawed Western country,” sheepishly trying to work its way back into the family of civilized nations after a century lost to communism. Russia’s seizure and annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine, however, has ended that delusion. The truth is that Russia is “an anti-Western power with a different, darker vision of global politics.” Putin will not stop with Crimea, said Oleg Shynkarenko in TheDailyBeast.com. The autocratic former KGB officer is now fervently trying “to persuade his people they have every right to rebuild their former empire,” and with his approval ratings soaring to 80 percent, Russians appear to believe him. The West’s targeted economic sanctions and the suspension of Russia’s G-8 membership may not blunt his ominous momentum, as Russian troops mass on the borders of Moldova and east Ukraine.
There’s no need for panic, said George Packer in NewYorker.com. “It would be naïve to take Putin at his word that Russia has no designs on territory outside Crimea,” and we should use all the nonmilitary means at our disposal to keep him out of the rest of Ukraine and other former Soviet republics. But Putin has no desire or ability to wage a Soviet-style campaign of “global conquest.” His only real goal is to stay in power. Hence his appetite for “continuous crisis and grievance”: They distract Russians from their country’s economic stagnation and rampant corruption. The smartest response to Putin’s provocations, said Fred Kaplan in Slate.com, is to quietly remind him of his limitations. The U.S. should flood Ukraine with Western money, so it can withstand his economic blackmail and bribery, and tell Ukrainian officials on unencrypted phone lines that we’ll send arms and special operations forces to help them resist any Russian occupation. This is “a regional conflict, not a global one,” and President Obama’s goal should be to “keep it that way.”
“This isn’t the return of the Cold War,” said Michael Kimmage in NewRepublic.com. “It’s worse.” Whereas the U.S. and the USSR posed equal existential threats to each other, Putin feels unilaterally endangered. He believes—correctly—that the U.S. and the European Union are plotting to push the West’s borders ever eastward, until even Russia is but a European suburb. From Putin’s perspective, only aggressive Russian nationalism will save his country from irrelevance; to him, peace and cooperation with the West are the same as surrendering to it.
Now America must adjust to Putin’s new world order, said Robert Samuelson in The Washington Post. Since the end of the Cold War, we’ve been operating under the assumption that the entire world would soon share our values, and that “the growing economic interdependence of nations” had made territorial wars a relic of the past. In watching Putin defy sanctions to grab Crimea, “we’re relearning an old lesson: History, culture, geography, religion, and pride often trump economics.” We’ve seen it in the Middle East, China, and now Russia, said David Ignatius, also in The Washington Post.The American model of a free and open society is not inevitable. “The battle for democracy is fought anew every time, and nowhere is it preordained that the good guys will win.”