For all our fixation now on Putin – a fixation I myself generally share – let’s be clear here. The crisis in Ukraine did not start with him. It started with the Ukrainian people whose overthrow of their democratically elected, though feckless and corrupt President Viktor Yanukovych, gave Putin all the excuse he needed to step into what he correctly perceived as a vacuum.
No doubt the Russian autocrat had long considered how to reclaim the Crimean peninsula. But he needed an ostensible reason, a putative justification for Russian occupation. As it happened, he was handed one on the political equivalent of a silver platter. Once Yanukovych was overwhelmed by the street and fled his post as president, Putin had what was required to take what he wanted.
This is not of course to excuse Putin from his land grab. Rather it is to remind how all this started. Not with him, not at the top, but at the bottom, with ordinary people pressing for political change. Of course, as we have seen elsewhere in the world, once change takes place all bets are off.