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Opinion: The West baffled

How to deal with Vladimir Putin's imperial power play in Ukraine? And with the radical upheaval in the Middle East? DW's Alexander Kudascheff sees few good options for the West.

A week before the NATO summit in Wales, just days before the necessary, sensible and pointed visit by US President Barack Obama to Estonia, and hours before an EU special summit, one can - must - admit: The West stands baffled by the neo-imperial policy of Vladimir Putin and is helpless in the face of almost tectonic strategic changes in the Middle East.

Sanctions - that's it

Of course, the EU, NATO, and the West in general will tighten the sanctions screws on Russia. And surely

there will be further sanctions

at the upcoming summits. They will certainly hit Russia and Putin, but they won't make him back down - even if no one truly knows what Putin actually wants to accomplish in Ukraine: "merely" the destabilization of the east, or rather its annexation, creating a closed corridor all the way to Crimea? In any event, Putin's Machiavellian approach is putting the West's reactionary weaknesses to the test - countries he knows will definitely not answer militarily, but will rather at the very most further equip the weak, demoralized Ukrainian army. But even that is not very likely.

Alexander Kudascheff DW Chefredakteur Kommentar Bild

DW's editor-in-chief, Alexander Kudascheff

In realpolitik terms, we have to recognize: Ukraine's fate is not in its own hands. It is dependent on Moscow, on Putin's mercy. Whoever wants to defend the integrity of the country - be they in Kyiv, Brussels, Berlin, or Washington - must speak to Vladimir Putin. They have to try and find out what Putin wants, so as to decide what to offer him. A "No" to Ukraine's membership of the EU, and NATO especially, is actually a prerequisite for any talks, not merely their agenda. The strict federalization of Ukraine with wide-ranging autonomous capacities in the country's east would surely be a goal of negotiations. Recognition of Russia's role in further development is unavoidable. In other words, Ukraine and the West will have to come to terms with a Russian veto. That's the price of the stealthy Russian invasion. It's a bitter price for Kyiv, as well as an admission that the West cannot do much save end the war with diplomatic concessions. Whereas concessions are little more than another word for resignation.

An overrun and overwhelmed West

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and after the reunification of Europe, the West has believed in the rationality of diplomacy. It has, in state relations, bet on reason. That's why it has been surprised and even overrun by Putin's power plays and recklessness. The West senses that, at the moment, it is an unconvincing and unconfident actor in world affairs.

In Europe people are careful and skeptical when it comes to Western claims to power. As the Obama years began, the United States withdrew into itself and limited its role in world politics. NATO has been stuck

in an identity crisis

for some time now. That vacuum has been entered by Vladimir Putin himself - who entered it fully conscious of his power. The West's reactions to his provocations - as well as to the cataclysmic changes in the Middle East - have been helpless and baffled. Only up to this point? No - at the moment it has nothing more to offer.

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