It has been three weeks since Russia's invasion of Ukraine and many lessons and portents of this crisis for the Transatlantic Alliance and Europe are now visible. First, this crisis has buried the post-Cold War assumption that war in Europe is inconceivable. Second, the West's passivity and utter incomprehension of Putin and Russia show that neither Europe nor Washington will defend the post-Cold War settlements of 1989-1991 or realize that the world has not left Realpolitik or "the old politics behind." Indeed, the belief in the end of such phenomena is now shown (as it should have always been seen) to be quite fallacious. So, this crisis' second and third lessons are that European security is, in fact, divisible and that Europe, as has too often been the case, will not fight for Eastern Europe and is cognitively unprepared for the current world.
Fourth, as long as these conditions are operative, Russia will continue expanding its self-proclaimed sphere of influence. More importantly and fifth, the previous generation's belief that Russia wants to be, or could be, integrated into Europe has exploded. Rather, Russia wants a free hand, an empire, and great power status. It does not want integration which it equates with subordination and it certainly resists liberal democracy. In fact, it regards democratization as the greatest imaginable threat to Russian security.
Russian power cannot be integrated into a European normative and political order. Instead, it insists on corrupting, subverting and undermining that order as the condition of its survival. Thus, Russia must be contained. This insight leads to the next lesson. Russia's imperial land and power grabs in Georgia (and now Ukraine), its efforts to undermine security in Moldova and the Caucasus, and its permanent saber rattling in the Baltics show that Russia remains unreconciled to the 1991 loss of empire. Pointing to a much deeper point, Putin and his "boyars" firmly believe that their system and any imaginable Russian state cannot be governed except as an empire. Empire for Moscow represents the necessary condition of survival against the threat of Westernization. This perception reinforces the previous point that Russia's imperialism is intrinsic to its system.
The quest for empire inevitably and inescapably means war. It means war because Russia, as shown in Ukraine and Georgia, cannot accept the genuine sovereignty or territorial integrity of any of its neighbors, including Eastern Europe. This is why all of its agreements with them are ultimately mere "scraps of paper." Therefore it must subvert, corrupt, undermine, or even try to conquer their territories to preserve this ruling elite in power and consolidate domestic support around Great Russian state nationalism. Moreover, the imperial drive means war because the peoples in Russia's path will resist, and the Russian state cannot sustain the burdens of empire.
The Transatlantic Alliance can only successfully roll back the current challenge and restore the basis for a genuinely free and unified Europe (the only lasting basis for European security) if it understands and assimilates these lessons. This means the military revitalization of NATO and its full willingness to uphold its agreements to support Ukraine's security and integrity as stated in the 1997 NATO-Ukraine treaty. This does not mean war. Instead, it means a combination of resolute military support for Ukraine, the decisive reorganization of European energy policy, and tough economic sanctions against Russia's government, banking system, and ruble. It also means exposing Russia's undeclared "asymmetric" war on Europe and efforts to corrupt its political figures and institutions. For the EU, it means not only devising a package to restore Ukraine to economic health but also providing practical assistance. In addition, the EU would need to issue a genuine promise of membership in the EU on condition that Kyiv carry out the arduous but necessary long-term reforms while guaranteeing Ukraine's security while doing so. This also means probably bringing Turkey into the EU as well to give it an option beyond Russia and reverse its current anti-democratic drift.
The present crisis has exposed Western reluctance to act on Ukraine's behalf. This appeasement is wholly misplaced and dangerous. Crimea is only the beginning and until or unless the West vigorously responds and restores Ukraine it will face ever mounting challenges and not just from Russia. If we choose passivity and appeasement, we will again relive Churchill's post-Munich admonition that, "England had a choice between dishonor and war. She chose dishonor. She will have war."