This week, Western nations are trying to turn down Russia’s threats to invade Ukraine for the second time in eight years.
The talks between the United States, NATO, European officials and their Russian counterparts in Geneva are an attempt to reduce Moscow’s military blackmail – and prevent another Kremlin attempt to alter European borders by violence. The conversation is not going well.
With 100,000 Russian troops thronging Ukraine’s borders, the Russian government has insisted that NATO should officially cave in for an impossible series of demands that would effectively return control of Eastern and Central Europe to Moscow. . The Biden team and allies refused but offered further talks to assure the Kremlin that NATO had no quarrel with a peaceful Russia.
So the stakes in this geopolitical chess game are much bigger than the future of Ukraine. (Although Ukraine is an important test case.) And the play revolves around Vladimir Putin’s visceral desire to re-establish the Cold War dividing lines between East and West. He seeks to rebuild the former Soviet sphere of influence that extends from Central Europe to Central Asia, and sees this effort as a restoration of Russian greatness.
“Putin wants to have the reconstruction of the Russian Empire as his legacy,” says Alexander Vershbow, former US ambassador to Russia and deputy secretary general of NATO. “We have to find out if that can be stopped.”
The Russian leader, a former KGB colonel, never hid his bitter feelings about the collapse of the Soviet Union. He famously said in his 2005 address to the nation, “The demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”
In the decade since taking power, Putin has tried to re-establish a degree of Russian control – by force – in now-independent countries he believes have been unfairly removed from his country’s historical land mass. was snatched from.
Russia invaded Georgia, and maintained its ethnic enclaves there as well as troops in a corner of Moldova. It now has effective control over Belarus through a dictatorship dependent on Russia. And Putin sent just 2,200 troops to Kazakhstan to help another Allied leader of Russia carry out a coup and massacre hundreds of protesters.
And then there is Ukraine, where Russia invaded in 2014, annexed Crimea and established Russian proxies in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. As always, as with Putin’s military threats, the excuse was that he was organizing Russian-speaking locals against popular “color” revolutions by the United States and NATO to overthrow pro-Russian local leaders secretly. Were.
Baloni. I was in Ukraine for weeks after the 2014 Maidan uprising, which led to the hasty flight of President Viktor Yanukovich. It was a de facto civil uprising against Yanukovich’s Kovo for Moscow for refusing to allow the country to come closer to the European Union.
The leaders of the so-called Donbass “rebellion” against the Kiev government were deported from Moscow in 2014, to “protect” Russian-speaking Ukrainians, and were fueled by Russian aid and weapons.
Putin’s motivation then, as now, was to re-establish his grip on Ukraine and destabilize his government. He believes, as he wrote last year, that Ukrainians and Russians are “one people”, and that “the formation of an ethnic Ukrainian state hostile to Moscow” results in the use of weapons of mass destruction against us. is comparable.
Yet it is Moscow that has mass-produced weapons along Ukraine’s border, against a country that presents no physical threat to Russia. It is Moscow that has transferred missiles to Kaliningrad, a Russian province on the Baltic Sea between the two NATO countries. It is Putin who is taking threatening steps elsewhere in Europe.
Ukraine is not likely to be acknowledged by NATO in the near future, nor will NATO inject offensive missiles into Ukraine as Russia accuses.
Of course, the question of timing is whether the US and NATO allies can prevent Russia from attacking Ukraine again – and whether tighter sanctions and sending more powerful defensive weapons to Kiev will suffice. The Russians are already threatening to leave the discussion.
But the first step toward a tough, united push against Putin requires recognition of his purpose: to restore Russian dominance over former Soviet satellites that have become independent. It is a prerequisite for a strong reaction to convince Putin that the cost is too high.
Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for The Philadelphia Inquirer. ©2022 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.