Darkness on the Edge of Europe

KYIV – In 2014, Vladimir Putin discovered his inner Trotsky. For what Russia’s president is now offering Ukraine is a perverse twist on the formula Trotsky proclaimed during the peace negotiations at Brest-Litovsk in 1918: “No war, no peace.” In doing so, Putin has not only moved to trap my country in a frozen conflict that will prevent both democracy and the economy from flourishing; he has shredded the rules and norms that have kept the peace in Europe for three generations.

No one should believe that the Minsk Protocol – agreed in September by representatives of Ukraine, Russia, and the Kremlin-backed armed militants in the eastern cities of Donetsk and Luhansk – marked the beginning of a return to normalcy in either Ukraine or Europe. Under that agreement, Ukraine’s government ceded de facto control of the Donbas region, supposedly for only three years, to Russia’s hired secessionists. But this imported hybrid war – and Russia’s bid to carve up Ukraine – is far from over.

On the contrary, the Minsk Protocol marked only the end of the beginning of Putin’s program to turn Ukraine into a vassal state, and to restore a Russian veto over its neighbors’ international relations. His efforts to thwart Ukraine’s European future will continue, as will his efforts to hollow out our democracy and replace it with a Kremlin echo chamber, unless the world imposes such a high price for his imperial ambitions that the Russian people refuse to bear it.

So, in 2015, the resolve that Europe and the United States have shown in opposing Putin’s designs must not only be maintained; it must be hardened. Yet, sadly, there have been signs of slackening Western commitment. The European Commission’s agreement in September to postpone full implementation of Ukraine’s association agreement with the European Union – the agreement that Ukrainians fought and died for in Kyiv last winter – signaled to Putin that cunning, force, and intimidation can win Western acquiescence in his subjugation of Ukraine and theft of Crimea.