In Europe, the strategies that have emerged — trivializing the annexation of Crimea or treating Putin as a madman — are self-defeating. The EU is oscillating between rhetorical extremism and policy minimalism. Though some have recommended an ill-advised expansion by NATO in the post-Soviet space, most are limiting themselves to support for symbolic sanctions, such as visa bans that affect a dozen or so Russian officials.
However, this could ratchet up pressure on non-sanctioned Russian elites to prove their loyalty to Putin, possibly even triggering a purge of the more pro-Western elements in Russia’s political class.
Indeed, no one actually believes that the visa bans will make a difference. They were imposed because doing so was the only action upon which Western governments could agree.
When it comes to Ukraine, both Western leaders and Western publics are in a mood of preventive disappointment.
Burned by a decade of wishful thinking and over-expectations — from the “color revolutions” in the post-Soviet world to the Arab Spring — Western public opinion has chosen to hear only bad news now. And this is the real risk, because the future of the European order mostly depends on what happens next in Ukraine.
It is now clear that Crimea will not return to Kiev; but it is also clear that postponement of next month’s election will mean the end of Ukraine, as we know it. It is the West’s responsibility to persuade Russia to support the elections — and to guarantee that the needed constitutional reforms will be decided in Kiev, not in Dayton.
Ivan Krastev is chairman of the Center for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, Bulgaria, and permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, Austria.
Copyright: Project Syndicate