Herein lies a paradox at the heart of foreign policy realism: that same, all-powerful US and EU octopus which is capable of overthrowing governments with the flip of a switch is somehow incapable of confronting Russian hard power. Anyy attempt at repelling the Moscow’s aggression is quickly derided as “warmongering,” with requisite references to the mistakes of Iraq thrown in for good measure. Perhaps we should stop calling these people “realists.” “Isolationist” seems more apt.
Another irony is that foreign policy realism—which purports to seek stability and the maintenance of the status quo—has given free reign to a revanchist Russian regime seeking to re-establish the Soviet Empire, international law be damned. As he did in Georgia, Putin is using force to redraw Europe’s boundaries in violation of every international agreement, treaty and understanding signed since the collapse of the Soviet Union, from the 1990 Charter of Paris to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum which specifically ensures Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Putin’s revisionism goes even further back; he’s seeking nothing less than to upend the Peace of Westphalia, the set of 17th century peace treaties that form the very basis of contemporary realist international political theory in their prescription of national sovereignty and non-intervention.