In retrospect, the long wait makes perfect sense. Once Putin held power in Russia, he never planned to cede it, so he had all the time in the world. Two of Putin’s key character traits are vengefulness and opportunism. He relishes his grudges and finds motivation in them: He has enjoyed holding the bombing of Yugoslavia against the United States all these years—and knowing he would strike back some day. He is anything but a strategic planner, so this knowledge was abstract until it wasn’t, when the opportunity to grab Crimea presented itself. Revenge has been sweet, but when other opportunities present themselves—and this will happen more often now, at least from Putin’s point of view—he will deploy Russian military force or the threat of Russian military force in other neighboring countries. He will take his revenge not only cold but plentifully.
Could the United States and its allies have undertaken anything other than military intervention to resolve the Kosovo crisis? In fact, they did. After the bombing campaign, which strengthened support for Milosevic and weakened his opponents, the U.S. poured cash into rebuilding the Serbian opposition. The funding was contingent on the disparate opposition groups agreeing to work together and attending regular coordination meetings held in Budapest, Hungary, and run by people whom participants understood to represent the State Department. The plan for the anti-Milosevic revolution was worked out in these meetings down to the smallest detail, including where the leaders of each of the 18 participating political organizations would be if mass protests broke out in Belgrade. They did, in October 2000, and Milosevic didn’t seem to know what hit him.