Getting to Yes with Putin

Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the European Union's divisions and weaknesses have been as encouraging for Russia President Vladimir Putin as America's hesitant approach to Syria was. Only a firm, clear, and united policy toward Russia can bring about a viable compromise.

PARIS – In the showdown with Russia over Ukraine, the weaknesses and divisions in European policy have been as encouraging for Russian President Vladimir Putin as America’s hesitant approach to Syria was. If Europe is to act responsibly, three key concepts should define its policy toward Russia: firmness, clarity, and a willingness to find an acceptable compromise.

Without firmness, nothing is possible. To be sure, Europe and the US made mistakes in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse. The US, in particular, can be accused of acting arrogantly and unnecessarily humiliating Russia. But the Soviet Union’s demise was the result of a long string of missteps, beginning with pre-Soviet Russia’s inability to come to terms with modernity. Post-Soviet Russian leaders have yet to confront those failures.

By adopting an aggressive, revisionist stance, Putin has made a historic and strategic mistake. Putin’s model should have been Peter the Great. His ambition should have been to tie Russia’s future to that of Europe. Instead, Putin turned for inspiration to Nicholas I, the most reactionary of Russia’s nineteenth-century czars.

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