Ukraine Mismatch: Fearless Putin vs Toothless Europe
As the West wastes time with endless discussions and threats of sanctions, Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to gain ground in Ukraine.
BRUSSELS — Now that the world is watching Moscow make its next power grab in eastern Ukraine, there is suddenly a lot of talk about Russia’s weaknesses. European politicians point out how much the annexation of Crimea has already hurt Russia economically and how much more suffering is yet to come. They also stress that Moscow in now totally isolated.
But such assessments aren’t much good right now. President Vladimir Putin isn’t concerned with the cost to Russia down the line. He’s interested only in the moment, and he is brutally exploiting every second of it.
Europeans weren’t prepared for the conflict in Ukraine, which is taking place on their own continent. So the EU pays lip service to international law, imposes modest sanctions on Russia, and threatens to impose harsher ones. Meanwhile, Putin puts armed forces in eastern Ukraine and knows the Europeans will waste time with endless discussions about how to react.
Time is the factor that works relentlessly against Ukraine and all those who want to rescue the country from Russia’s aggression. With the best intentions, Americans and Europeans worked to bring Russians and Ukrainians to the same table. And it was also in good faith that EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxemburg Monday urged caution so that impending talks Thursday between all parties in Geneva would not be jeopardized. Which also means that Putin can get on with his destructive work virtually unhindered until then.
Economically, Putin can’t take on the European Union. Halting energy deliveries to the West would be an ineffective, self-defeating weapon because Russia is totally dependent on this revenue. Putin has only two advantages in this situation, and they are not insignificant: his military might and his determination. Since the EU first warned against “further” escalation of the crisis, the Russian president has covered a fair amount of ground.
And the EU is doing relatively little to stop him. Travel sanctions and blocked bank accounts are merely symbolic and political. The threat of economic sanctions has already failed. The thinking was to more or less accept the annexation of Crimea but to make Putin fear dramatic financial consequences were he to continue his incursion into eastern Ukraine. It didn’t work.
The Europeans would be well advised to stop pointing out Russia’s weaknesses right now and start dealing with their own.