Putin is not triumphant. He is desperate

Europe is alarmed by Vladimir Putin’s actions, and it should be. What it should not do is panic.

The Russian incursion into Ukraine over the last week is sure to radically transform European visions of national defense and reverse the trend of spending cuts. It will lead, rightfully, to re-examinations of strongly held assumptions of security on the continent. It makes European posture toward Putin so far … weak. And it has been.

But there is an important point to remember throughout this crisis: Russian expansionism is born of weakness—not strength. Every forceful action Putin takes is a costlier version of his previous—and preferred—course of action. He tried to buy Ukraine’s affection with cheap gas, and it didn’t work. He encouraged Viktor Yanukovych to quash steadfast domestic opposition, and that didn’t work. He tried to covertly assist rebels in the East to cause trouble for the government, and that still didn’t work. Faced with no other options to maintain influence in the country, he has taken the most costly course of all—ground invasion.

Consider how panicked he must be to do what he is doing. The Daily Mail laments how sanctions have “failed abysmally” to make Putin back off. But, on the contrary, think how desperate he must be to do what he is doing in spite of the toll the sanctions are already taking on the Russian economy.

On top of the direct harm levied against his own people, Putin has spurred Europe to be prepared for future NATO contingencies like never before. Sweden, long interested in neutral postures, are deepening their defense ties with NATO. The UK and six other nations plan to create a 10,000-man rapid response force for the alliance, as well. And Putin has forced himself into the position that these countermeasures are being taken even though he has less of a defense buffer than he did last year!

Believe Russian propaganda at your own risk. Almost nothing has gone right for Moscow in the last 10 months. Contest Putin’s newest actions, but do not envy his position.

About the Author
Dan Rozenson is a graduate student in security policy at George Washington University in Washington, DC. He also writes about baseball at Baseball Prospectus.