Putin the Great

PARIS – One day, monuments to Vladimir Putin may stand in Russian cities, bearing the inscription: “The man who returned Crimea to Mother Russia.” But perhaps monuments will be erected on many European squares as well, acclaiming Russia’s president as “The Father of United Europe.” Indeed, Putin’s swift move to annex Crimea has done more to harmonize European governments’ views on Russia than dozens of bilateral or multilateral meetings.

In Berlin last week, I heard French and German elites speak with one voice in discussing how to respond to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. Of course, words are not deeds. Yet, thanks to Putin, the European Union may have found the new narrative and momentum that it has sought since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Europe badly needs that momentum. Confronted with a neo-imperial Russia’s desire to revise the post-Cold War order in Europe, the EU must speak with a single voice if it wants to appear strong and credible. And it must speak as one with the United States, just as it (mostly) did during the Cold War.

The US, for its part, also seems newly galvanized by the crisis in Ukraine. It is as if the Americans’ familiarity with their new/old enemy – an adversary whom they understand in a way that they do not understand Afghans, Arabs, or Persians – has provided a renewed sense of purpose. The alliance of democracies is back, and the facile quip that America comes from Mars and Europe from Venus no longer makes sense. Confronted with a Russia that really does come from Mars and seems to understand and respect only force, the firmness of the world’s democracies must prevail, underpinned by a unity of purpose that was lost in Iraq and Afghanistan.