To begin with, just because Putin doesn’t want what the USA wants does not make him evil. It may, however, make him our enemy.
Russia has always favored an authoritarian executive. That is their business, not ours so long as it does not injure us.
The goals of Putin are the same as Russian goals have been for centuries under the czars and the Communists.
A warm water port
security from invasion.
Having been a KGB agent does not make him evil. Rather it means he was a Russian patriot.
He and Russia do see the West as the eternal enemy, as much as the west sees Russia in the same light.
Having given the Devil his due what is to be done about the guy?
People quote ad nauseam Santayana ‘s statement about those who do not remember their history having to repeat it. I have seen this over and over again in my lifetime but probably no clearer than here. If the allies had confronted Hitler over Czechoslovakia he would have had to retreat. Not doing so while Germany was militarily weak just emboldened him.
Looking at what I said above one may say that Putin is no Hitler, and he would be right. Hitler was evil. Putin is simply a man trying to fulfill Russia’s long term needs or what Russian governments have always perceived as needs. It doesn’t matter whether Putin is good or bad any more than it matters who was leading Germany, a patriot or a tyrant, when it set out on a path of conquest.
It should be realized that sanctions cannot effect a patriot or a tyrant. They haven’t changed the Cuban government. They never effected Mao’s world view for China. Nor did they cow Saddam Hussein or Bashar Assad. What they understand – and perhaps more importantly what their generals understand – is military confrontation.
For 60 years there has been peace – albeit a cold one – between the two halves of Korea not because of the number of troops on their border but because the North cannot attack the South without also attacking American troops, something that the American people would never permit.
The same holds in the Ukraine. Russia has legitimate historical and economic reasons for insisting that the Caucasus be in her orbit. She cannot consider herself a great state otherwise. Likewise although they may remain independent, the other Balkan states must be within her sphere of interest and to some extent of influence, just as the USA isolated Cuba and Venezuela and Nicaragua in our sphere. Since Caesar Augustus it has been the geographical misfortune of the Balkans to be frontier states that dare not offend either side in the 2,000 year old cold war on their borders.
NATO should put troops on the Ukrainian border, not to fight but to separate the pro Russian militants from cross border support by Russia. Like Hitler and Czechoslovakia, Putin is not capable of actually interfering militarily unless the West folds. All those tanks the newsreels showed of German movements were only the best the Reich had. Mostly Hitler’s army at the time used horses for transport. This is likely the case with Russia now. If NATO separates the Ukraine disputants from the Russian border than it will be up to the Ukrainians themselves to settle their differences, hopefully peacefully but somehow. Putin will not fire through a British or Norwegian or French flag. (I suggest Germany stay out of it. Nothing would bring the two sides together better than German interference.)
Mr Putin knows his history and is relying on the West repeating the Munich mistake. The West is so used to peace and prosperity now that it has forgotten that patriots like Putin cannot be assumed to put their economic well being first.
I recall after the fall of the USSR that most Americans seemed to think that Russia would become some third world (or at least second rate) nation. That was absurd. The goals of the various Soviet leaders were always more traditional Russian ones than Communist. It was ridiculous to expect that Russia would for long accept a humiliating secondary place in the world which denied her the security of sympathetic border states and the industrial might of the Caucasus. A Greater Russia was a certainty; The only question being when. Confrontation over political and economic interests was a given. What must be achieved today is a peace line tolerable to both sides. That will not be achieved by confronting apparent military strength with sanctions. No one, including Putin, wants actual war. The Russians better than the west recall the horror of two invasions (three counting Napoleon). But military strength and a willingness to use it is a key element in forming a post cold war agreement which will hold despite being subject to tension as it always has been. The first thing both sides must acknowledge is that while everyone has national interests, this is not a story of good guys and bad guys – just like in our Congress.
NATO is unwilling to risk economic losses, or so it seems. Putin looks back on the best of the Soviet empire. We in the West just saw people living three generations in a tiny apartment and a sense of sameness and grayness in the cities. Putin knows how far an authoritarian regime brought the Russian people. Stalin industrialized the USSR. He confronted and defeated Hitler. The people were fed, not well it is true, but fed. The housing built after the destruction of WW II was gray and simple and without originality, but the Soviet Union housed all those left homeless by the war. Everyone had a job even though many of those jobs were non productive. I expect he also realizes how much of the national wealth was wasted in a confrontation with the USA that could not be won. Putin believes in an authoritarian government. It is a mistake to think that other Russians don’t. He is also a patriot who no doubt blames the West for the humiliation his country suffered after the fall of the soviet empire. But like other Russian leaders of the past he is a realist more than an ideologue. He wants economic security for his country and is willing to wave a sword to get it but will back away if the second does not advance the first. He does not expect some kumbaya peace in the Balkans. That has always been a myth of the West. But he does not want war either and the best way to avoid war is for NATO to confront him militarily now before he has more well equipped battalions to scare everyone with. We must also keep in mind that this is essentially Europe’s problem, not America’s and it is primarily for Europe to settle it or pay the consequences. The cost of not confronting Hitler in Czechoslovakia was immensely higher than any perceived gains of appeasement.