Chancellor Angela Merkel has issued an ultimatum to Russia over what she called its annexation of Crimea: Back down or face strong measures from the European Union. Accusing Moscow of acting by the “law of the jungle” in an address to parliament on Thursday, Merkel said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions are a clear breach of international law and threatened full-fledged economic sanctions.
Recent developments in Ukraine have been nothing less than astonishing -- and that's just as true of seasoned observers of Eastern Europe as it is of everyone else. Russia's bold and illegal military intervention issues a startling challenge not just to Ukrainian independence but also to the very foundations of the post-war liberal order.
But it's nuts to talk about Ukraine the same way. Putin didn't invade Crimea because the decadent West was aimlessly sunning itself on a warm beach somewhere. He invaded Crimea because America and the EU had been vigorously promoting their interests in a country with deep historical ties to Russia.
The question can be risky. When a Moscow historian who compared Putin to Hitler for invading Ukraine posed it in a newspaper column last Sunday, he was fired from his job at Russia’s most prestigious university. Elsewhere, however, many now believe it has become reasonable to ask. Has Vladimir Putin lost his grip on reality?
In a thoughtful post on Ukraine and Vladimir Putin's decision to invade it, Ross Douthat suggests that the incursion was plausibly connected to White House fumbling in Syria. He begins with a nod to those who disagree. "Many writers I read and respect are dismissive of the idea that concepts like 'toughness' and 'credibility' and 'resolve' meaningfully shape the behavior of foreign actors," he writes.
Remember the Sochi Olympics? Yeah. Me, neither. There’s been so much focus on Ukraine, we almost forget that just a short time ago we were talking about the “twizzles” of ice dancing. Those were good times. The Sochi Olympics were widely considered a success. They helped introduce a new image of Russia to the world.
Russia invaded Ukraine over the weekend, justifying its incursion by claming it needed to protect Crimea’s ethnic Russian population from supposed neo-Nazi extremists. This was pure propaganda, of course—Vladmir Putin has been keen to annex land that used to be part of Russia, as he did in Georgia in 2008, and seems to think that the Ukrainian army will and should immediately surrender to the Russian one.
The Sochi 2014 Winter Games drew Sunday night to a close, an Olympics intent on projecting the image of a strong and confident new Russia across this vast country and to the world beyond, with a mighty Russian team awakening the echoes of the mighty Soviet sport system to prideful spectator cheers of “Ro-ssi-ya! Ro-ssi-ya!”