This is hardly a surprising outcome.
But, in the end, this may not turn out the way the Russian President hopes.
Before the meetings started, it looked like Putin had the West (and Ukraine) in a bind. He argued NATO must agree to Russia’s demands, including a vow not to add new members and a retreat of NATO forces to their positions dating back to 1997 — a set of commitments NATO said from the outset it wouldn’t consider. It seemed easy to imagine that Putin could turn to the Russian people and say, ‘Look, I tried diplomacy, but the West rejected it. We have no choice but to invade Ukraine.’
Nobody knows whether Putin plans to invade. But the 100,000 troops arrayed on Ukraine’s borders are poised to act. If what Putin wanted was attention, he got that. If he wanted to distract his population from domestic problems, he got that for a time. But he will have to make a decision soon. When the winter ice melts, the muddy roads would make an invasion more difficult. And waiting is expensive.
Not as expensive, however, as a real invasion.
Whatever happened this week as scores of diplomats gathered in Europe, the ultimate decision will be made by one man in Moscow. Putin may choose to invade, and he may succeed in lopping off another slice of a country whose sovereignty Russia had vowed to once respect. In the process, however, he has sent a message to the entire world about the direction in which he is taking his country.
While nations voluntarily seek to join the alliances led by democratic countries, Russia — once expected to become a peaceful member of the family of nations — is now an autocratic power, repressing its own people’s calls for democracy, defending autocrats across the region and engaging in crass intimidation and forcible conquest.