Moscow is clearly testing the limits of the West, which must now put a stop to Putin's muscle-flexing with some muscle of its own. How about a German-Polish army brigade?
BERLIN — With the brutal Soviet regime in mind, Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov once described his homeland as a "country of moral cretins, smiling slaves and poker-faced tyrants." Hardly any of his Western contemporaries shared this harsh verdict. It was just the opposite, because since the 1960s or earlier we've developed a penchant for glossing over Russian derailment, whether it concerned domestic matters or issues abroad.
Matters were only made worse by the fear of the sheer breadth of the land mass, of the size of the voracious bear that, from Poland to Hungary to Czechoslovakia, engulfed this or that state, or pressured it back into its power sphere. It was not infrequent that what we celebrated in front of the Iron Curtain as conciliation was nothing more than pussyfooting around.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall came the additional illusion — in Germany at least — that Russia wanted to be an equally entitled part of the West. The belief was that Moscow viewed power politics as a relic of the past. Germans celebrated "The End of History," rejoiced in the coziness of the new era, and overlooked the fact that this coziness, this supposedly lasting peace, sprang from a narrow horizon.
So it was all the more frightening when, under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, Russia proceeded to return to the cold, interest-driven politics of a fallen empire and — having carefully studied Western weaknesses — has been able to enjoy without consequences the perpetration of its crudeness and boorishness.
The West has answered with sanctions. But basically it's still not ready to see Russian behavior as a wake-up call requiring a new strategy of deterrence, a scare campaign.
Moscow will not stop challenging Europe and NATO. The Kremlin is not doing this to drive the West to distraction. By testing the rules — invading air space, engaging in threatening behavior in the Baltics, meddling in Ukraine — the Russian government is hard-headedly testing the limits.
Moscow believes that every Western step back is a step forward for Russian interests. Crucial for the West is not to let itself become intimidated, to stick to a hard line, to draw borders, to strengthen Western defense, to spend more money on the military, and to prove to Moscow that the Eastern NATO members are as important as the Western ones. Indeed, it may now be time for Germany to add a full German-Polish brigade to the multinational corps stationed in Szczecin, Poland. Boots on the ground.