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War or Peace in Ukraine?

The massing of Russian military forces on Ukraine's border does not necessarily spell war in the near term. But it should serve as a reminder to all of Europe that the region will not know peace until the Kremlin learns to live with a genuinely sovereign, democratic Ukraine.

STOCKHOLM – Can Russia accept living peacefully next to a sovereign, independent, and undivided Ukraine? Or is open war inevitable? This has long been the paramount question for Eastern Europe, and it has abruptly returned to the fore with the massive buildup of Russian military forces in Crimea and along Ukraine’s eastern border.

Ukrainian independence was the issue that definitively broke up the Soviet Union three decades ago. While the departure of other Soviet republics would not necessarily have been an existential threat, Ukraine’s declaration of independence absolutely was. It sealed the Soviet Union’s fate, a collapse remembered by Russian President Vladimir Putin as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the twentieth century.

For two decades after the Soviet Union’s breakup, Russia focused primarily on building its own state and forging its own identity. That changed when Putin decided to return to the presidency for a third term in 2012 (having served a single term as prime minister while his crony, Dmitri Medvedev, held the presidency until Putin was constitutionally eligible to run again). Now, he embarked on a revisionist course to create a so-called Eurasian Union.

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