The fog we all lived in since the end of December when Putin presented his ultimatum to the West, has been dispersed. Russia’s aging president (Putin is 70 this year) eventually understood that he had failed in his unrealistic goal of forcing the West to change the rules via blackmail and finally got to the point. He started by recognizing the independence of the two breakaway Ukrainian regions – LNR and DNR – and sending Russian troops to Donetsk and Luhansk for “peacekeeping”, meaning occupation at the very least.
Some 32 years ago, in 1990, Iraq’s totalitarian regime invaded Kuwait, and soon the rules of the new world were established. With Iraqi forces decisively crushed and forced to flee by a disparate coalition of 35 countries, the world accepted that from then on it should be impossible to occupy your neighbor’s territory and that if you tried it, punishment would follow. This coalition was led by the United States and the most powerful nations of the world joined it.
Three decades later, the rules were changed again so that it was once again possible to occupy your neighbor’s territory. As in 1990-91, the change was imposed by military force, but this time through the unilateral action, acting without the support of anyone at all (unless one includes the ultra-nationalist, would-be state-splitter, the Bosnian Serb, Milorad Dodic.) Russia, with the world’s eleventh-largest economy, its revenues dependent on natural resources, and with a declining population, has decided to re-make the global order to its own liking.
It says a lot about Putin, but it also says a lot about the West and its willingness to stand up to a change of the rules imposed by the military force of an aggressive and not entirely predictable authoritarian regime.