Now that Russia President Vladimir Putin has swallowed Crimea, the question becomes: What if the peninsula doesn’t satisfy his appetite for new Russian territory? What if the only thing that will satiate his hunger for power is the goulash known as eastern Ukraine? Or does he then move on to Moldova, and then on and on?
Indeed, while the world watched the protests in Kiev and the Sochi Olympics last month, the Moldovan territory of Gagauzia quietly held a referendum about whether or not to join Russia if the rest of the country opts for stronger ties to the European Union. Its citizens, just like those in Crimea, have argued that they would be economically better off on Putin’s planet, rather than as meager satellites in the Western solar system.
The prospect of joining Russia, of course, sounds far better on paper than in reality. The promise of benefits is likely to evaporate when robust Western sanctions throw Russia’s economy into a steeper downturn. The ruble has already lost almost 9 percent of its value this year against the dollar. Many have argued (myself included) that very soon Putin won’t be able to survive the international blowback.
But what if Putin’s grand plan is more than just presiding over the re-united Russian territories? What if his long-term strategy is creating a new global conservative bloc, building an iteration of the Cold War that pits decadent, neo-colonial Western democracies against everyone else?
By beating the anti-West drum and turning the sanctions policy on its head, Putin seeks to mold Russians into an ever more obedient, patriotic public — forced to give up many of their post-Soviet amenities for the sake of glorifying mother Russia.