The Road to Slovyansk

TOKYO – The Ukraine crisis has demonstrated that one person alone can endanger world peace. But that one person might not be Russian President Vladimir Putin, who in reality only leads a large regional power that, owing to his authoritarian rule and muddled economics, is a long-term threat more to itself than to the world. No, the lone actor most responsible for threatening world peace might unwittingly be US President Barack Obama, with his scholarly inertia and apparent disregard for the fate of smaller, faraway countries.

Of course, Obama is not responsible for Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea, or for Putin’s massing of Russian troops on Ukraine’s eastern border in an effort to intimidate the government in Kyiv. Nor is Obama alone in crafting a Western policy of appeasement by default. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also bears considerable responsibility: Her tough rhetoric masks a largely business-as-usual approach that reflects her country’s dependence on Russian gas supplies.

But Obama is responsible for his administration’s apparent indifference to the fate of the American-built order that has governed world affairs since the end of World War II. Unless he toughens his policies, the rules and norms that have guaranteed peace for so many for so long could lose their force.

The utter disconnect between America’s diplomatic principles and practice has become so great that it is emboldening the country’s adversaries. That is why, following Russia’s illegal seizure and annexation of Crimea, Putin is now trying to mold Ukraine’s eastern provinces into vassal regions, if not foment irredentism, in order to realize his dream of reconstituting the Russian empire.