Taking On Revisionist Russia

The struggle for influence in Ukraine is a game that Russian President Vladimir Putin cannot afford to lose. Since gaining the upper hand with the annexation of Crimea, he has been shrewdly forcing a divided and risk-averse West to choose between war and accommodation.

MADRID – For some countries, military or political defeat is so intolerable, so humiliating, that they will do whatever it takes to overturn what they view as an unjust international order. One such revisionist power was Egypt, which resolved to undo its 1967 defeat by Israel and regain the Sinai Peninsula. This was ultimately achieved, but only after President Anwar Sadat embraced a strategy of peace by journeying to Jerusalem. The most ominous case, however, was Germany in the 1930s, which systematically shredded the European order that had emerged after World War I.

History suggests that a revisionist power can be disciplined in two ways. It can be opposed with equal fervor, like that which enabled Europe's conservative powers to defeat Napoleon in 1815 and the Allies to defeat Germany in World War II. Or it can reach the limits of its military and economic strength, as in the case of the Soviet Union at the time of its disintegration.

At that point, the country has a choice. It can, as Germany did, opt for reconciliation with the international order. Or it can take the route of President Vladimir Putin's Russia, and develop a new revanchist strategy – in this case, to overturn the order that emerged from the Soviet Union's Cold War defeat.

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