NEW YORK – By invading Ukraine in 2014, President Vladimir Putin’s Russia has posed a fundamental challenge to the values and principles on which the European Union was founded, and to the rules-based system that has kept the peace in Europe since 1945. Neither Europe’s leaders nor its citizens are fully aware of the scope of this challenge, much less how to deal with it.
Putin’s regime is based on rule by force, manifested in repression at home and aggression abroad. But it has been able to gain a tactical advantage, at least in the short term, over the EU and the United States, which are determined to avoid direct military confrontation.
Violating its treaty obligations, Russia annexed Crimea and established separatist enclaves in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region. When it appeared last summer that the Ukrainian government might win the war in Donbas, Putin ordered an invasion by regular Russian armed forces. Preparations for a second wave of military action began in November, when Putin provided separatists with a new influx of armored columns and personnel.
The West, sadly, has provided embattled Ukraine with only a façade of support. Equally disturbing has been the continuing reluctance of international leaders to provide new financial commitments to Ukraine, despite growing pressure on its foreign-currency reserves and the specter of a full-blown financial meltdown. As a result, the mere threat of military action may be sufficient to bring about Ukraine’s economic collapse.