The expulsion of over 140 Russian diplomats by the governments of 27 countries in response to Moscow’s actions in the Skripal case show that the West is finally beginning to understand that appeasement won’t work with Vladimir Putin either, according to Ukrainian commentator Vitaly Portnikov.
If Mr. Putin’s goal was to transform Russia into an international outcast denounced by the civilized world, Mr. Portnikov says, one must acknowledge that he has finally achieved “undoubted success… in the 19th year of his rule and on the eve of his fourth term” but not for lack of trying earlier (graniru.org/opinion/portnikov/m.268708.html).
On March 26, he writes, “the Western world came out as a real front of diplomatic attack on Putin’s Russia” while the list of those who weren’t prepared to expel Russian diplomats looks “more like a list of dependence rather than ‘the non-aligned movement.’ ” There were also many in the countries from which they were expelled who didn’t want this to happen.
But the new reality is that such people were not able to prevent it, because of “the reputations of their countries and their own reputations and about the future role of countries and politicians in the arrangement of forces in the West. Only those too tightly tied up with Kremlin money and contracts could ignore this.”
Now a new Western unity has been forced and it is time to think about what to do next, Mr. Portnikov says, “because it is clear that the expulsion of diplomats is only a signal, only a demonstration of an existing consensus, only an invitation not so much to dialogue as to good sense.”
The Kremlin is unlikely to leap at the chance, not least of all because “the West has been so delayed in its solidarity.” It should have taken this action immediately after Russia attacked Ukraine. “But at that time, Western capitals preferred to give the impression that this was only some post-Soviet conflict that in no way touched the interests and security of the West itself.”
This marks a fundamental change from the West’s response to Mr. Putin’s aggression in Ukraine beginning in 2014. Then the West beseeched the Russian president not to intervene in the Ukrainian mainland after he annexed Crimea. “Naturally,” Mr. Portnikov says, “that was something he ignored.”
And thus “instead of helping the new Ukrainian authorities defend their country from an aggressor,” the West made that more difficult and thus allowed Mr. Putin to move forward with his plans.
“I remember,” Mr. Portnikov says, “how Western diplomats, experts and journalists reacted with smiles when we explained to them that this was not an attack on Ukraine: this was an attack on you and on all of us. On Ukrainian territory, [Putin] is fighting with America, with the West and with all those he hated with all the fibers of his Chekist soul.”
Now things have deteriorated to the point that Mr. Putin has launched a chemical attack in Salisbury, England. And finally the West has reacted as it should have much, much earlier. But this, tragically, is an old, old story, the Ukrainian analyst and commentator continues.
“In the 1930s, it seemed to many that if they gave Hitler Austria and closed their eyes to the destruction of Czechoslovakia that he would be satisfied and there would be no war. In the 2010s, they decided that Putin would be satisfied with Crimea and would stop at the Donbas. But aggressors have their own dietary plans. They get fat as long as they are allowed to,” the analyst concludes.