Times are hard in today's Russia. At some point, Russians will expect their powerful leader to deliver better times at home. To delay that day of judgment a little longer, Putin needs victories -- particularly those that burnish Russia's image as a world power. Once again, he's getting them. For now, he's on a roll -- and an international force to be reckoned with.
MOSCOW -- Putin's goal was to convince average Russians to equate the nearly holy war against fascism with the regime's current escapade in Ukraine. Kremlin spin doctors have been reinforcing that association for months with a constant torrent of claims that Ukraine is besieged with "fascist sentiment," which is attempting to justify Hitler's atrocities.
The specific motives behind political murders are often less important than the impact those crimes have on the country's larger political processes. It is noteworthy that some observers are already comparing the murder of Nemtsov with the "Reichstag fire" or the murder of Sergei Kirov. The former marked the start of the Nazi terror in Germany while the latter served as a pretext for former Soviet leader Josef Stalin to unleash his political repression.
KYIV -- What happens in Ukraine -- not the financial standoff with Greece -- will be the ultimate test of whether European and transatlantic unity endure. The fault lines extending from Ukraine are undermining the fundamental values that have underpinned Europe's postwar peace and prosperity. Failure to defend those values in Ukraine will cause them to unravel far beyond our borders.
MOSCOW -- At the root of all this monstrous and bloody story is the fact that the West lied to Moscow 25 years ago when it said it would not expand NATO even one inch to the east if the Soviet Union agreed to the unification of Germany. The West really did take full advantage of its opportunity to violate the balance of power in the world and must now busy itself with overcoming the negative consequences.
Does Putin want Europe and the United States to feel threatened by a possibility of a larger war with Russia -- in order to push them into continuing talks with him? If the talks fail, Putin might want the West to believe Russia will have no choice but to expand militarily. Or does Putin really care about the negotiations, not the war? By pushing the rebels to take more territory in eastern Ukraine, the Kremlin is trying to create new facts on the ground that Putin can use as leverage in the impending talks.
Real convergence does not happen only between East and West, but first and foremost inside each country. And it resides in the social contract between the state and its citizens. But Ukrainians must also have no illusion that this is a project lasting at least a generation. For a generation, from independence to the EU presidency, is exactly the time it took Latvia.
Worries about the return of history's ghosts so far have been unfounded, at least as far as Germany is concerned. Though the global financial crisis and its effects on Europe have de facto turned Germany into an economic hegemon, it is not a role that the government sought or relishes. The reunited Germany remains a peaceful democracy, recognizes all neighboring borders and remains firmly anchored in NATO and the European Union.
Russia's ruling class, taking its cue from the president, has completely shifted into a world of its own, replete with a separate set of ideas, values and principles. And the problem is not whether the Russian or Western world is more "correct," but that the two sides have conclusively formed separate camps, unable to understand and unwilling to even listen to each other.