(Postmedia News) The West had seen Russia coming for a long time, but had hoped – vainly as it turns out – that somehow closer ties with liberal democracies would strengthen the resolve of its people to muddle through and eventually escape the vise grip of its thuggish leaders.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin’s quick and aggressive takeover of Crimea has shattered that fantasy. Russia has again set the political world on its head.
On Tuesday morning, humankind woke up to a new geopolitical reality where a major military power had drawn back the curtain on itself to reveal a rogue state.
It’s not as if we couldn’t see it coming. For more than a year, the Putin regime had cracked down on media freedoms including the Internet, removed the more independent courts of law, tightened electoral laws to reduce the power of opposition parties and imposed a range of other measures to silence civil society and to intimidate non-governmental organizations.
“So this is a real crackdown on Russian society, forcing people to step in line with Putin’s policies,” said Robert Orttung, assistant director of George Washington University’s European, Russian and Eurasian Studies in Washington.
Most experts agree that there was little the West could do to stop Putin. The question now is whether the West can remain united in its resolve to isolate Russia, perhaps force Putin’s exit and prevent more land grabs. […]
With or without sanctions, Russia is in a much different place than it was before its land grab. Its economic and political message had been one of inclusion. Eager to modernize its economy, join international trade organizations and expand trade, it had for years been negotiating bilaterally and multilaterally with the major economic powers.
Its oligarchs have enjoyed the security and benefits offered by liberal western democracies in the form of safe financial systems, English country estates and football teams. Now, having violated its treaty with the Ukraine to never challenge its borders, all of that is in the balance. No more St. Tropez for your average Vladimir the Unconquerable.
“With these actions they have basically undermined their position internationally saying whatever agreements we may sign with you are worthless,” said Cory Welt, a Russian specialist at George Washington University. “Businesses willing to work in Russia better have a very high tolerance for risk.” […]