Is Putin dangerous for the West

Seven years ago, what happened up until then was imaginable, but highly unlikely. The largest state on earth attacked its neighbor in the west. With initially camouflaged military force, Russia took control of the Ukrainian Crimea, annexed the peninsula and started a war in Donbass with irregular troops.

Seven years is a short time, but it was enough to make some people forget the reason for the sanctions against Russia and the miserable relationship between the West and the leadership in Moscow. They are looking for the culprits in Washington, Brussels and Berlin. Russia's military show of power on the borders of Ukraine is now helping the memory on the jumps. Above all, it forces them to consider what is imaginable to be likely.

Nobody should be sure that the Russian president doesn't want to finish what he started in 2014. After Ukraine as a whole is lost to Russian power, Vladimir Putin still has the option of increasing his land gains, improving access to Crimea and cementing the division of Ukraine by promoting the project of a "New Russia" in the east of the country Ukraine revives. Putin may think the timing is right. The world is in the grip of the corona pandemic, the EU states are busy with themselves. Which may also explain why so little attention has been paid to the growing tensions on the Russian-Ukrainian border.

In the nature of things, one can only speculate about Putin's intentions. Decision-makers in the West have to consider several options. The troop movements can serve as intimidation as well as actual war preparations. Putin may also want to test the nerves of the new US President Joe Biden, who annoyed him with his "killer" statement. It is conceivable that Putin has not yet decided on his next steps. It is precisely this ambiguity that forces the West to be clear. In 2014, Putin was apparently surprised by the sharp reaction and the noticeable sanctions. This time the Kremlin chief should definitely know what he is getting into.

The danger is that the Russian leadership believes the consequences of a new attack have already been priced in, especially since they have got used to the economic costs of the previous sanctions. Russia has long since written off its relationship with the EU, as Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov documented through the humiliating treatment of EU Foreign Representative Josep Borrell during his unhappy trip to Moscow. After all, with Biden in the White House, the West now has another chance to come up with a united front. He now has to make it clear in good time that things can get worse for Russia. Sanctions must be threatened that will hit the Russian power apparatus and its economic base much more severely than the previous ones.

Deterrence is by no means just a military tool, it is also a form of political communication. If Germany and France now call for restraint on both sides, it will hardly come across as a serious warning in Moscow. Should Russia attack Ukraine, this would of course be the end of Nord Stream 2. At least that should now be made clear.