Why, then, if the U.S. and Europe “get” Russia’s interests the way Kerry says they do, has it come to this? What could be worth Russia’s market taking a 10% dip in one day and the prospect of Putin hosting a G8 for one in Sochi? And why didn’t U.S. and European leaders see it coming? Maybe they’ve just got him all wrong. Privately, Western diplomats in Kiev have admitted throughout Ukraine’s crisis that the Kremlin is a big black blot on their map. Russia’s ambassador, Mikhail Zurabov, makes a point of refusing to speak to them. Senior U.S. officials worry their Russian counterparts are not really the ones deciding policy. (Russian officials who spoke to Kommersant Vlast magazine for a recent deep-dive on Ukraine policy all nodded at the ceiling and said, “Everything was decided up there.”)
When the other side is that blank a slate, it’s easy to project your own thoughts on it. But Putin thinks he knows the West far better. To an outsider like him, it looks pretty stark. Putin knows there has never been any action behind all those endless strongly worded statements. Western countries talk a good game on rights and international law, but they bend the rules at every possible turn. Just look at what happens when they open their mouths. You want to see Ukraine make a “free choice” in the “fight for a democratic, European future?” Fine: The Russian Federation has and will not interfere in the internal affairs of brotherly Ukraine, whose lawful president was elected for closer ties with Moscow. Mad if we “invade another country on phony pretexts in order to assert your interests?” Then guess you don’t mind if we bring up Iraq again.