Europe’s Act in Ukraine’s Tragedy

Sanctions will not impress Vladimir Putin enough to persuade him to change course on Ukraine, because he and his cronies are isolating Russia economically and financially more effectively than most sanctions could. Peaceful yet tangible political steps within the EU, including the creation of a European energy union, just might.

BERLIN – Grand political strategy and everyday experience often have a lot in common. Try, for example, to swallow a salami whole, and you will probably choke to death. In the world of high politics, people behave no differently: they slice their salami before consuming it. If they cannot achieve an objective immediately, they approach it patiently, step by step.

Today, the Kremlin is employing such “salami tactics” vis-à-vis Ukraine. Before our eyes, a tragedy in several acts is unfolding, in which the players and their aims are clear. What is not known is how many more acts this sad political spectacle will have, and thus when – and how – it will end.

The first act began in the fall of 2013, when then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych duped the European Union and its leaders by refusing to sign a long-planned association agreement. Instead, he chose to have Ukraine enter a customs union with Russia, in exchange for a pile of cash and cheap oil and natural gas. Russian President Vladimir Putin seemed to have achieved his political aim, namely to bring Ukraine, which had been drifting toward Europe throughout the post-Soviet period, firmly back into the Kremlin’s sphere of influence.

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