David Ignatius says Putin has “made a mistake” in invading Crimea:
The opportunity for Putin is almost precisely opposite his atavistic vision of restoration. It is only by moving west, toward Europe, that Russia itself can reverse its demographic and political trap. Year by year, the Russian political system becomes more of a corrupt Oriental despotism — with Moscow closer to Almaty than Berlin. The alternative is for Ukraine to pull Russia with it toward the West.
As former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski explained in a 2008 book, “If Ukraine moves to the West, first to the EU and eventually to NATO, the probability that Russia will move toward Europe is far greater. . . . Russians will eventually say, ‘Our future will be safest, our control over the Far East territories most assured . . . if there is a kind of Atlantic community that stretches from Lisbon to Vladivostok.’ ”
Ignatius and Brzezinski both make the mistake here of assuming that if we want a thing — in this case, peace and prosperity — then naturally everybody wants that same thing.
But its evident now, if it weren’t already, that Putin (and probably most Russians) think that Russia’s safety lies in strength and power, however obtained. That’s been true, or at least popular opinion, for virtually all of Russia’s history.
We’ve now had two American presidents in a row who failed to grasp this simple geopolitical fact. So while we’re playing checkers, Putin is playing 3D international mugging.