Russia’s military intervention in Crimea, whatever its consequences for Ukraine itself, is first and foremost a gauntlet thrown down to the West. How the West responds will shape the future of Russia, Ukraine, and the European project for a generation.
Regardless of the wisdom of Western support for Ukraine’s Euromaidan protest movement, regardless of the unsavory makeup of Kiev’s interim government, and regardless of the mistakes made by all sides in recent months, the reality is this: for the second time in six years, Russian President Vladimir Putin is using force in the territory of another sovereign country to achieve what he could not accomplish through diplomacy.
In so doing, he is setting up a militarized border beyond which he will not allow the European integration project to progress. If the EU and the West more broadly accept that border, they will almost certainly be called upon to defend it in the future.
Recognizing Putin’s new frontier also means condemning the next generation of Ukrainians, Belarusians, Georgians, Armenians, Azerbaijanis, and, indeed, Russians to isolation. If, however, the EU and the West choose not to accept that border, they have a chance to demonstrate that there is still life in their liberal project, and that there are certain forces that even Putin cannot resist.
Read the rest in Carnegie’s Strategic Europe blog.