Once again, Vladimir Putin has snaffled the U.S. and her quondam allies: the acceptance by Ukraine of a proffered cease-fire on what, for Russia, are very comfortable terms, will douse any ardor in the West for aggressive confrontation.
In last night’s NightWatch bulletin, John McCreary wrote:
While NATO plans to fight Russia, Putin’s peace plan has outpaced NATO’s profession of resolve. The crisis will be winding down on Friday. Even if it does not, Putin emerges with enhanced international stature. If the fighting in Ukraine stops, support for the NATO rapid reaction force in Eastern Europe will weaken rapidly.
At every opportunity in recent years, Vladimir Putin has mocked and and taunted the epicene, etiolated, and increasingly self-enstupidated West, in whose faculty-lounge worldview something like ISIS “has no place in the 21st century”, and for whom the idea of a virile former superpower reclaiming some of its lost assets is now “unthinkable” (a word that has a depressingly literal aptness here, I’m afraid). Putin knows, when he embarks on these adventures, that there is a threshold of audacity below which nobody is going to stop him, and he is adroitly probing its limits. We can be sure that with every advance he is further emboldened. Sure, there may be sanctions, and they may hurt, but Putin enjoys overwhelming popular support — and I think the West has forgotten the glaring historical fact that the Russians will always bear brutal hardships, if they must, to prevail against outsiders who seek to control them. If we were sensible, we would recognize that Russia has, and has always had, a natural penumbra of influence and control, and that is beyond our power — at least the power we are realistically willing to exert, or that it is in our interest to exert — to deny Mr. Putin the run of it. Crimea is not the Gaspé Peninsula.
The worst possible approach is the one we consistently choose: spluttering outrage and “red lines”, backed up by nothing. A great power may be forward-leaning and aggressive in international affairs; it may also be content simply to attend to the security of its own proper sphere of influence. Both approaches have their costs and benefits. What is important above all is to choose, and to be consistent. At this, we consistently fail — as we seem to do, these days, at so many things.