Lucian Kim writes: The European Union, with Germany at its head, sleepwalked into the Ukraine crisis. Shielded by U.S. military might since the end of World War Two, Western Europeans had come to live under the illusion that their irresistible soft power — democratic values and economic prosperity — is alone strong enough to bring the continent together. In their attempt to finalize an association agreement with Ukraine in 2013, EU leaders jostled with Putin for influence, not realizing that what they regarded as a trade deal, he viewed as brazen geopolitical encroachment. When the pro-EU protest on the Maidan unexpectedly succeeded in chasing Kremlin client Viktor Yanukovych from power last February, Putin watched the West crossing a red line it had chosen not to see. Securing Russia’s Black Sea Fleet on Crimea was the first priority. Wreaking havoc on Kiev’s interim government by fomenting an uprising in eastern Ukraine was the second.
Could anybody have anticipated Russia’s actions a year ago? Radoslaw Sikorski, who was Poland’s foreign minister during the Maidan protest, said that at last year’s Munich conference he had asked Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov if the Kremlin had territorial ambitions in Ukraine. “He flatly denied it,” Sikorski said. Less than a month later, Yanukovych fled Kiev, and Russian troops were fanning out across Crimea.
Lavrov was also in Munich this year. The usually suave Russian foreign minister was visibly nervous as he delivered his speech, rattling off a standard list of slights and transgressions — almost all of them committed by the Bush administration — and blaming the United States for everything. When Lavrov said that Crimea chose the path of self-determination as foreseen under the United Nations Charter, the audience of VIPs burst into laughter.
The Russian position afforded a glimpse into the alternate reality presented day in and day out by the Kremlin propaganda machine. “There are no Russian troops in Ukraine,” Konstantin Kosachyov, the head of the Russian Duma’s foreign affairs committee, said in English. “There is no evidence — just statements, statements, statements.” According to his version of events, Russia is sitting and watching idly as a civil war unfolds across hundreds of miles of undefended border. “I thank Madame Merkel for a very strong position,” Kosachyov said about her rejection of arms for Ukraine.
Even if the West doesn’t believe that it’s engaged in a proxy war with Russia, the Kremlin reading is that it’s already taking place. [Continue reading…]