It was not even a month ago that Vladimir Putin stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the elected leaders of the Western world to commemorate the D-Day invasion. I hope whoever issued that invitation has the decency to feel some embarrassment today. Through the past eight months of escalating Russian violence against Ukraine, too many European governments have treated the Ukraine issue as remote and marginal: regrettable, yes, but not a threat to the peace of the continent. It was more important, they felt, to sustain a normal relationship with Russia. That illusion died yesterday along with the murdered passengers of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
Russia is funding, arming, and urging forward a violent insurgency against an elected European government. In Crimea, Russia sent troops across an internationally recognized border, seized territory, and intimidated and abused the conquered population. This is not a bilateral Ukraine-Russia conflict, in the way that, for example, the conflict between Russia and Georgia in 2008 could be dismissed as a bilateral conflict. It’s a challenge to the stability of the whole continent.
For a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Europeans hoped that Russia would and could evolve into a country at peace with itself and its neighbors, as Germany has so notably done since 1945. Russia was invited to join the Group of Seven industrialized nations (G7). NATO redefined its mission, reorienting itself as a global peacekeeping organization rather than a Western alliance designed to contain Russia. NATO extended a kind of associate status to Russia, and Russia was assured that no U.S. troops would be stationed in former Warsaw Pact territories.