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soldier smoking Anatolii Stepanov/AFP via Getty Images

Darkness on the Edge of Europe

Russia’s recognition of the two separatist statelets in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region has heightened Western fears of a large-scale Kremlin-ordered invasion of the country. Although the trajectory of the crisis remains difficult to predict, many think that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggressive gamble may have paid off – at least for now.

In this Big Picture, Charles Tannock, a former member of the European Parliament, says that, by withholding severe sanctions in response to Putin’s latest move, the West is demonstrating that avoiding a major war in Europe is more important to it than upholding Ukrainian sovereignty. But Nancy Qian of Northwestern University takes a realist line, arguing that Russia’s stronger motivation to fight over Ukraine makes preventing a war the best thing the United States and its allies can do to help the country.

Putin’s strategy toward Ukraine is not without risks, either. Former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt explains why Russians and their neighbors will continue to suffer until the Kremlin overcomes its imperial nostalgia. And Mark Leonard of the European Council on Foreign Relations thinks Putin’s aggression could unite otherwise divided European Union member states in a shared determination to defend their own security.

Likewise, Princeton University’s Harold James says the roots of the Ukraine crisis lie in Europe’s own failure to build a closer political and security union after the Cold War, though his proposed remedy for this mistake is to establish a security pact spanning the entire Northern Hemisphere.

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