The American Interest

Moscow Rules

Spending the first three days of spring in snowy Moscow, especially after being in balmy Yalta and Sevastopol, is not my idea of fun.  It is useful, however, when you write on foreign affairs and there’s a first-rate crisis under way between “Putin’s Russia” and the West.  The overriding impression is that Moscow no longer perceives Washington and Brussels to be credible partners.  The key moment came on February 22, when the E.U.-brokered deal—signed on February 21—to ease Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych from power was swiftly turned into a regime-changing coup.  Vladimir Putin felt he was being brazenly cheated.  Having just persuaded Yanukovych to sign his de facto abdication—to agree to a major reduction in presidential powers and an early election—he was presented with what looked like yet another Western fait accompli.

Putin responded with the Crimean gambit.  Reuniting the peninsula with Russia is not much of a prize, however, if the rest of Ukraine is consolidated under the rule of Victoria Nuland’s handpicked favorite (Arseniy Yatsenyuk) and Western Ukrainian hard-core nationalists (Svoboda, Right Sector).  The Russian president seems to believe that no such consolidation is possible, which is why he has not sent Russian soldiers to Kharkov, Odessa, or Donetsk (although I understand...

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