Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova: The Three That Got Away, For Now
In March Russia seized 26,000 square kilometers of Ukrainian territory in Crimea. It then sent armed personnel to eastern Ukraine, cut off gas to Kiev for the third time in eight years, and launched large military maneuvers along the borders. The West responded by imposing a travel ban on some named officials and dropping Russia from the G-8. The sanctions were so inconsequential that Putin publicly mocked them. He welcomed signs of disunity between the US and the European Union. His recent visit to Vienna, where Russia and Austria agreed to construct the Austrian component of the South Stream gas pipeline, revealed evidence of additional fissures––within the EU. Moscow’s ability to manipulate some EU and NATO members, including Great Britain, was a pleasant surprise to many Russians. No wonder the approval ratings of their president are now higher than at any time in his 15 years in office. Putin’s satisfied face adorns every newspaper throughout the Russian Federation.
But when Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova snubbed Putin’s invitation to join the so-called Eurasian Union and signed their Association Agreements with the EU, Moscow suddenly discovered that its weapons arsenal was empty. It merely denounced Petro Poroshenko as a “Nazi,” charged Kiev with blackmail and anti-Semitism, compared Ukraine with Iraq, Libya, and Syria, and declared that Air Moldova could not fly to Moscow. Having already banned “gay propaganda,” public smoking and alcohol in sports stadiums, Putin moved to eliminate another vice: a decree now forbids swearing. This is unlikely to change the course of history. In declining to kiss the hand of the aggressor, Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, and the EU did what is right, and they hurt Putin at his most sensitive spot for he is now stuck with Belarus and Kazakhstan and nobody else. Moreover, his militarism has alienated his natural ally, Germany, and has caused Sweden and Finland to consider joining NATO. It remains to be seen whether Putin, having conquered Crimea, will not have lost Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, driven two significant neighboring countries into the hated NATO, and reduced Russia to dealings with such countries as North Korea, 90 percent of whose debt Moscow has just hastily written off as a grand gesture of friendship.
—Dr. Igor Lukes is a professor of history and international affairs in the Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University.