Reviews | For Ukraine, Europe thinks Putin wants more than war

The answer is surprising, even paradoxical. Europeans and Ukrainians are skeptical of a major Russian invasion of Ukraine not because they have a more benign view of Mr. Putin than their American counterparts. Rather, it’s because they see him as meaner. War, they reason, is not the Kremlin’s game. Instead, it is a vast suite of tactics designed to destabilize the West. For Europe, the threat of war could prove more destructive than war itself.

America and Europe are not divided on what Mr. Putin wants. Despite all the speculation about the motives, this is clear: the Kremlin wants a symbolic break with the 1990s, burying the post-Cold War order. This would take the form of a new European security architecture that recognizes Russia’s sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space and rejects the universality of Western values. Rather than the restoration of the Soviet Union, the goal is the recovery of what Mr. Putin considers historic Russia.

In Washington and Brussels, the message got through. There is general agreement on both sides of the Atlantic that the Kremlin, whatever it does next, will not stand still. Russia will not just back down. But while Americans tend to believe that Mr. Putin needs a hot war in Ukraine to achieve his grand ambitions, Europeans and presumably Ukrainians believe that a hybrid strategy – involving a military presence on the border, a militarization of energy flows and cyberattacks – will serve him better. .

It’s based on sound reasoning. A Russian incursion into Ukraine could perversely save the current European order. NATO would have no choice but to react with firmness, imposing severe sanctions and acting in decisive unity. By hardening the conflict, Mr. Putin could rally his adversaries. Holding back, on the other hand, could have the opposite effect: the policy of maximum pressure, barring an invasion, could end up dividing and crippling NATO.

To see how this might play out, just look to Germany. Before the crisis, Germany was America’s closest ally in Europe, had privileged relations with Moscow and was the most important partner for Central and Eastern Europe. Today, some in Washington have questioned the country’s willingness to confront Russia, Berlin’s relationship with Moscow is rapidly deteriorating and many Eastern Europeans are agitated by Germany’s apparent reluctance to come to their aid. Germany’s difficulties are an indication of what could happen if Mr. Putin continued his tightrope policy, without providing the certainty of a real invasion.

About Pamela Boon

Check Also

Israeli PM Bennett on whirlwind visit to UAE amid standoff with Iran

Placeholder while loading article actions TEL AVIV, Israel — Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett made …