Instead, Russia’s aggression in Crimea and eastern Ukraine forced the United States and Europe to order economic sanctions that target a few wealthy, connected Russians. But the sanctions are limp (”calibrated,” President Barack Obama calls them). Europe’s leaders lacked the backbone to stand and act firmly. They sent precisely the wrong message to Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
Why did Europe’s leaders fail to lead? And why is it urgent that they lead immediately? The answers can be seen in a quick glance at the big picture. It is, actually, two paint-by-the-numbers pictures.
The Lack-of-Leadership Picture: (A) 370 -- that, in billions of dollars, is how much trade the European Union nations do with Russia each year. (B) 26 -- that, in billions of dollars, is the trade the United States does with Russia annually (no wonder Obama finds it so much easier to apply tough economic sanctions against Russia for its reckless military threats and actual aggression in Ukraine). (C) 25 -- that’s the approximate percentage of fuel that the European Union countries get from Russia. (D) 33 -- that’s the percentage of natural gas that Germany gets from Russia via the pipeline that runs through Ukraine.
The Urgency Picture: (A) 71 -- the percentage of Russians who said they now “trust” Putin’s leadership, according to an independent poll published last week in The Moscow Times and other news outlets. (B) 51 -- the percentage who now say Putin had made Russia a “great, respected power.” (C) 36 -- the percentage of Russians who held that view just one year ago.
Europe’s titular leaders, being professional politicians, know that with numbers like that, Russia’s president will never stop posing as a leader by threatening to catapult Europe into the sort of un-shirted hell Europe hasn’t seen since the dark old days of the early Cold War. So they must lead Russia’s citizens by at least making the truth real and palpable. Only then can there be a chance that Russia’s people can influence their leader to act in the name of prosperity -- by returning to the prosperous path of peace.