NEW YORK – No set amount of time must pass before journalism gives way to history, but normally historians write with the advantage of perspective that reflects the passage of years, decades, or even centuries. Time is necessary for information to come to light, memoirs to be written, and the significance of events to reveal itself. What seems relatively trivial now may prove to have been anything but, just as what appears to loom large can fade in importance.
But, for better or worse, the West does not have the luxury of waiting to make sense of recent events in Ukraine, simply because there is no assurance that what occurred in Crimea is unique. Thousands of Russian troops remain on Ukraine’s eastern border; every day, there are new reports of unrest inside Ukraine, many allegedly instigated by Russia.
We thus need to move quickly to understand what recent events imply about Russia, its president, Vladimir Putin, and the international order. It is no less important to apply the lessons swiftly.
Putin wants to restore Russia to what he regards as its rightful place in the world. He is genuinely angry over what he views as the humiliations suffered since the end of the Cold War, including the Soviet Union’s breakup and NATO’s enlargement – though he will never admit that Russia actually lost the Cold War.