VLADIMIR PUTIN, by his own reckoning, has never made a “global or strategic” mistake during his 15 years in power. That’s because “I never take arbitrary decisions, decisions that may entail consequences I don’t foresee,” the Russian ruler confided in an interview released this week by the Tass news agency. What’s more: “When a Russian feels he is right, he is invincible.”
Perhaps Mr. Putin was trying to reassure a domestic audience made jittery by Western sanctions and the incipient economic distress caused by his seemingly reckless invasion of Ukraine. Or perhaps he has calculated that Russia can easily withstand the “consequences” so far imposed by the West — and that no more are likely to be forthcoming.
The Kremlin is certainly behaving as if it has nothing to fear from the United States or European Union. In the past two weeks, it has brazenly dispatched more troops and heavy weapons to eastern Ukraine while shrugging off protests from NATO. Ukrainian government officials say they believe the Russian forces and their puppet allies may be preparing a major offensive to capture more territory — Mr. Putin is thought to covet a land bridge between Russia and the occupied province of Crimea. As it is, Moscow’s forces are launching small-scale attacks nearly every day. According to the United Nations, more than 1,000 people have been killed since a cease-fire deal on terms dictated by Russia was signed Sept. 5.
Yet last week Vice President Biden once again turned aside pleas from Ukrainian leaders for defensive weapons, such as antitank missiles, that might help deter more Russian aggression. Instead, he lectured the democratically elected government on the need to adopt economic austerity and legal reforms.
On Monday, Mr. Putin signed a treaty with the puppet state of Abkhazia, a province of Georgia that Russian troops invaded and occupied in 2008. Moscow’s attempt to win international recognition for Abkhazia and another Georgian province, South Ossetia, as independent states failed. So it is taking steps to incorporate them into Russia. The treaty with Abkhazia gives Moscow control over the province’s military, foreign policy and economy and allows residents to easily obtain Russian citizenship. The State Department issued a statement saying it wouldn’t recognize the treaty, but there was no mention of further sanctions.
In fact, the West appears to be tiring of confronting Russia even as Mr. Putin escalates his imperialism. At a news conference in Australia this month, President Obama pronounced himself satisfied with the current level of sanctions immediately after confirming that Russia was flagrantly violating the Ukraine cease-fire agreement. The European Union adopted only token measures in response to the violations, adding several more Russian individuals to a blacklist.
“At this point, the sanctions that we have in place are biting plenty good,” Mr. Obama insisted. Not enough, apparently, to deter Mr. Putin from sending more troops to Ukraine, tightening his hold on Abkhazia or declaring himself “invincible.”
Read more about this topic: