Quieting the Eastern Front

LONDON – As the world drifts toward a new cold war, democracies and authoritarian states must determine what they want from and owe each other in order to enable constructive cooperation. Democracies cannot simply say that time is on their side, and that they need only hold firm to their principles for authoritarian regimes to collapse. It is easier to imagine the end of the planet than the demise of authoritarian rule.

The current flashpoint is Ukraine (although it easily could have been Taiwan). This “undeclared war” has been simmering since 2014, when the Euromaidan protests led to the ouster of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, and Russia’s subsequent annexation of Crimea and occupation of the eastern Donbas region. While the West accused Russia of illegally seizing another sovereign state’s territory, Russia claimed it was recovering part of the motherland.

These opposing narratives reflect historical differences. Russian policymakers, and many ordinary Russians, have never inwardly acknowledged that their country lost the Cold War, because this would have meant accepting that between 1989 and 1991 the global balance of power shifted decisively in favor of the United States and its European allies.

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