Vladimir Putin is winning handily in Ukraine. To those who merely shrug their shoulders and mutter “who cares” under their breath, The Economist has a good response:
The idea that his adventurism will end in the Donbas is as naive as the theory that he would be satisfied when his troops wrenched Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia in 2008. This week Mr Putin rattled his sabre at Kazakhstan, still ruled by the elderly Nursultan Nazarbayev: any succession squabble would be an opportunity. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, small, ex-Soviet countries, have Russian-speaking minorities of the kind Mr Putin has undertaken to “protect”. These Baltic states joined NATO in 2004. But what if a Russian-financed separatist movement sprang up, a Baltic government claimed this amounted to an invasion and its NATO allies refused to help? The alliance’s bedrock—its commitment to mutual self-defence—would be shattered.
When the Russian attack on Ukraine started, there were many predictions that the West, with its huge advantages in money and military power would have little trouble brushing Putin aside. But so far it has been Putin’s Russia that has outclassed and humiliated the West’s divided, slow moving, and deeply unimaginative leaders. The West is led by conventional thinkers who all believed in one way or another that the only things they had to fear were losses in elections and investigations by prosecutors. The bad old days of real struggle between genuinely hostile great powers were gone forever.
They were wrong, and a new and uglier stage of history has begun to unfold.