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Disrupting Putin’s Game Plan

MUNICH – No sooner did the Sochi Winter Games end than Russia bade farewell to the Olympic spirit by invading and occupying a foreign country. With its aggression against Ukraine, the Kremlin has breached the United Nations Charter, the Helsinki Final Act, and other international agreements, including the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances and the Black Sea basing agreement, which spelled out Russia’s relations with Ukraine.

Crimea has been turned into a military zone, and its inhabitants might soon find themselves trapped in the firing line if the crisis continues to escalate. Russians now face international diplomatic and economic isolation, thus exacerbating their country’s economic woes. And Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reckless gamble risks dragging the world into a wider conflict.

In light of Putin’s dangerous behavior, the West must rethink its stance toward him. Here is a leader who read a hidden, menacing agenda into a technical European Union document about export subsidies and anti-fraud provisions. More broadly, here is a paranoiac who sees an implausible coalition of liberal Russians, Ukrainian fascists, the CIA, and Islamist terrorists trying to thwart his preferences, if not topple him, at every turn.

Indeed, what we are seeing is not an unfortunate over-reaction to recent events, but a result of meticulous preparation. Armies do not mobilize 150,000 troops within days, or have vehicles and thousands of uniforms without insignias ready, or hold military exercises in peaceful regions of the world without warning.