In recent months, Vladimir Putin has been playing hardball with the world. Yet Russia’s bullying and bravado can be seen as signs of a longstanding weakness.
With oil prices falling, the ruble is tumbling down, and Russia’s immediate economic prospects are grim. But the Russian leaders’ political will to retain Ukraine is unlikely to disappear anytime soon. The lands that became modern Ukraine had been part of Russian empire for three and a half centuries. Vladimir Putin has shown inexhaustible energy in obstructing Ukraine’s rapprochement with the West; Ukraine’s prospective successes in integrating with the EU (or, in a more adventurous scenario, with NATO) would be a heavy blow to Russia’s prestige and to Mr. Putin’s ego. Therefore on the long run, it seems unlikely that any person or institution can prevent the Russian president and his cronies from wresting Ukraine back firmly into the Russian orbit.