Putin’s Reality Check for Europe

Whether or not its leaders acknowledge it, the EU is now in direct conflict with Russia over its enlargement policy since the end of the Cold War. That is because Russia’s re-emergence as a global power requires not just the reintegration of lost Soviet territories, but also a dominant role in Eastern Europe.

BERLIN – For far too long, the West has harbored illusions about Vladimir Putin’s Russia – illusions that have now been shattered on the Crimean peninsula. The West could (and should) have known better: Ever since his first term in office as Russian president, Putin’s strategic objective has been to rebuild Russia’s status as a global power.

To this end, Putin used Russia’s energy exports to recover gradually the territories lost when the Soviet Union collapsed a generation ago. Ukraine has been at the heart of this strategy, because, without it, the aim of a revived Russia is unachievable. So Crimea was just the first target; the next will be eastern Ukraine and persistent destabilization of the country as a whole.

Before our eyes, the post-Soviet international system in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia is being overthrown. Nineteenth-century concepts of international order, based on zero-sum balance-of-power considerations and spheres of interest, are threatening to supersede modern norms of national self-determination, the inviolability of borders, the rule of law, and the fundamental principles of democracy.

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