Easily the best piece that I have read on what I will call the Crimean crisis is the analysis published in The Wall Street Journal on Monday by John Vinocur, who was formerly the executive editor of The International Herald Tribune, and who knows his way around the European continent. It begins as follows:
If truth be told, former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer says, Europe's leaders have known for years that Vladimir Putin's ultimate goal has been "a far-reaching revision of the post-Cold War strategic order in Europe." But rather like the United States for much of the last decade, they have refused to deal with this fact. As a result, Mr. Fischer contends, if "Ukraine loses its independence in one way or another, European security will be at risk," notably in Poland and the Baltic states.
Russia has now rejected the legitimacy of a pro-West government the European Union helped install against Moscow's will. Russian troops have entered Ukraine and captured its Crimean peninsula. If Europe swivels around the challenge, it can't simply default to its usual can't-we-all-be-friends mantra. As Mr. Fischer, a man of the West, explained to me in a series of conversations, the EU must face up to a Russian president who says: "You lose, I win."
The United States was informed last July, directly after a visit by Mr. Putin to Kiev, that the Russian president had told Ukrainian leaders they would not be allowed to stray from Moscow's orbit into an "association" agreement with the EU. Reuters news agency, quoting U.S. officials, also said Washington and European capitals regarded this as "a sign of how hard Russia would fight Western influence on Ukraine."
Apparently no one at the highest levels paid attention. Europe, and the Americans in their own way, simply ignored this challenge to European order. . .
Real change would mean Europe accepting something like Mr. Fischer's characterization of Mr. Putin's Russia. This would mean shedding the Russia-is-manageable views that rank as ideology among some of the EU's leading members.
A blinders-off European Union would also define Mr. Putin's Eurasian Union plan as aimed at keeping ex-Soviet zone countries such as Ukraine in a Russian sphere of influence. As Mr. Fischer put it, the EU would admit that large parts of the "blame for the outcome in Ukraine falls squarely on the EU's leaders" and their "neglect of Europe's own strategic interests," extending to Syria and Iran.
Vinocur draws attention to a deal in the offing that might settle the crisis — just as Putin would like to see it settled: "Gerhard Schröder, former German chancellor, Gazprom executive and Mr. Putin's authorized megaphone to the EU, has said the real game-changer in Europe's East-West future would be for Brussels to make 'simultaneous' offers of 'association' to both Ukraine and Russia. That would give Mr. Putin an all-access pass into EU affairs and a gripping hand on any Kiev government. It's a given that Mr. Putin will require quid pro quos for any arrangement involving Crimea. The Schröder recommendation points in the direction of the concessions he will want."
As he notes, something along these lines already has the support of Nicolas Sarkozy, former President of France, and of Dominique Villepin, former Foreign Minister, who has been calling for a "deepened dialogue" with Russia. "Let's do this alone," he says. "The Americans have nothing to do with this good-neighborly exchange apart from discussing relations between Anchorage and Vladivostok." This, Vinocur explains, is precisely the role that Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier envisaged for his country when he put together the Social Democratic Party's 2013 election manifesto.
To this, I can add, that such an arrangement is precisely what the Russians were aiming at in the last years of the Cold War.