It’s supposed to be a holiday week, the week of July 4th, Independence Day, not much going on except barbeque and beach. But no such luck. There’s news, lots of it, domestic and foreign, no rest for the weary.
Given the time of year, and given the headlines, from Iraq imploding to soccer exploding, no surprise that an otherwise big story has received scant attention, at least in the U.S. But the deal that was reached a few days ago between not only Ukraine, but also Georgia and Moldova on the one hand, and the European Union (EU) on the other, is a landmark. It represents not only a major turning point for Europe, it is also, unmistakably, a slap in the face of Vladimir Putin.
Sure, Putin seized Crimea without firing a shot, no mean feat. But the future of Europe is a long game, not a short one, and for the moment there’s no mistaking that Putin’s Russia has suffered a serious setback. Precisely because all three countries – Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova – are still considered by (most) Russians to be in their sphere of influence, this most recent expansion of the EU’s Eastern Partnership is a major blow.
It’s improbable of course that Putin will accept this defeat lying down. He does not relish being publicly humiliated and this is just that, a public humiliation and political repudiation. Moreover, he has many arrows in his quiver, many ways he can make miserable those living in the three former Soviet Socialist Republics, from political and military destabilization to economic retaliation. But at this moment at least greater Europe has the winning hand – which raises the question of what the West will do to sustain its advantage.