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 Putin may end up facing exactly what he has railed against - a NATO more firmly parked on Russia’s borders, - New York Times

President Vladimir Putin of Russia is not veering from the mythology he created to explain away the crisis over Ukraine. It is one that wholly blames the West for provoking a new Cold War and insists that international sanctions have not grievously wounded his country’s flagging economy.

He told the story again on Friday at a business forum whose purpose was to give weight to that fantasy. It drew at least 24 chief executives of Western companies, some of whom attended even though their governments had urged them not to, Censor.NET reports citing the article in the New York Times.

Despite Mr. Putin's skill at using foreign executives as props, he is looking more desperate than confident that he will win the confrontation with the West.

It will be a big setback for Mr. Putin if, as expected, European Union foreign ministers formally extend sanctions on Russia by six months when they meet this week in Luxembourg. Ever since Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea forced NATO and the European Union to react, he has worked to split the trans-Atlantic alliance, and some believe its collapse is his real goal.

Read more: Sanctions reinforce Putin's narrative that Russia is the victim of a Western or Anglo-Saxon plot, Soros says

The Europeans are indeed divided over the extent to which Russia, with its huge oil and gas resources, should be isolated, but Mr. Putin's aggression so far has ensured their unity when it counts. In addition to extending existing sanctions, the allies have prepared a new round of sanctions that could be imposed if Russian-backed separatists seized more territory in Ukraine.

In the meantime, Belgium and France last week began to seize Russian assets in their countries, to enforce a 2014 international arbitration court order for Moscow to pay shareholders of the Yukos oil company $50 billion in compensation after Russian officials forced it into bankruptcy.

Although Mr. Putin insisted on Friday that Russia had found the "inner strength" to weather sanctions and a drop in oil prices, investment has slowed, capital has fled the country and the economy has been sliding into recession. Even the business forum was not all that it seemed: The heads of many Western companies stayed away for a second year.

One of the most alarming aspects of the crisis has been Mr. Putin's willingness to brandish nuclear weapons. His announcement on Tuesday that about 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles would be added to the Russian arsenal was not a surprise. The United States and Russia are both spending billions of dollars to modernize their weapons. But the move further alarms NATO allies near Russia's borders and the loose talk could undermine years of efforts intended to reduce nuclear tensions and the risk of war.

Read more: Belgium seizes Russian state assets, presumably in Yukos lawsiut, - media

The United States and Europe have largely been measured in their response to the crisis. They need to stay measured and focused on diplomacy, always making it clear that the confrontation could end if Mr. Putin withdrew his troops and weapons from Ukraine and instructed Russian-backed separatists to observe the Minsk cease-fire agreement that both sides have routinely violated.

Given Mr. Putin's aggressive behavior, including pouring troops and weapons into Kaliningrad, a Russian city located between NATO members Lithuania and Poland, the allies have begun taking their own military steps. In recent months, NATO approved a rapid-reaction force in case an ally needs to be defended. It also pre-positioned some weapons in front-line countries, is rotating troops there and is conducting many more exercises. There are also plans to store battle tanks and other heavy weapons in several Baltic and Eastern European countries.

If he is not careful, Mr. Putin may end up facing exactly what he has railed against - a NATO more firmly parked on Russia's borders - not because the alliance wanted to go in that direction, but because Russian behavior left it little choice. That is neither in Russia's interest, nor the West's.

Read more: Merkel and Hollande consider progress in resolving Ukrainian crisis 'insufficient' - Media

 
 
 
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