VIENNA – The West is now living in Putin’s world. It is there not because Putin is right, or even because he is stronger, but because he is taking the initiative. Putin is “wild” while the West is “wary.” While European and American leaders recognize that the world order is undergoing a dramatic change, they cannot quite grasp it. They remain overwhelmed by Putin’s transformation from CEO of Russia, Inc., into an ideology-fueled national leader who will stop at nothing to restore his country’s influence.
International politics may be founded on treaties, but it functions on the basis of rational expectations. If those expectations turn out to be wrong, the prevailing international order collapses. That is precisely what has happened in the course of the Ukrainian crisis.
Just a few months ago, most Western politicians were convinced that in an interdependent world revisionism is too costly and that despite Putin’s determination to defend Russia’s interests in the post-Soviet space, he would not resort to military force to do so. It is now clear that they were sorely mistaken.
Then, after Russian troops occupied Crimea, international observers largely assumed that the Kremlin would support its secession from Ukraine but would stop short of making it part of the Russian Federation. That belief, too, proved to be entirely wrong.