The waltz of sanctions and counter-sanctions between Western capitals and Moscow now seems normal. However, it should not obscure an alarming fact: never since 2014 and the annexation of Crimea has the situation been so tense on the eastern flank of Europe. Like a puzzle whose pieces stubbornly refuse to fit together to the satisfaction of all players, this area is torn in all directions. Ukraine, which sees more than 100,000 Russian soldiers massing at its borders, demands its integration into NATO. Belarus, riddled with a democratic insurgency, has been faltering for months.
Seen from Moscow, the various fortunes of its former Soviet republics depend on interference from the West. And Vladimir Putin said it his way Wednesday: Russia will respond “asymmetrically, quickly and brutally” if its “red lines” were crossed. Which exactly? The Russian president did not say so, wishing to keep a tactical advantage over his opponents by keeping them in limbo.