While the current debate focuses on Ukraine, it is essential to remember that the United States’ broader goal should be to undermine Putin’s legitimacy. Last year, he faced widespread protests after the rigging of parliamentary elections. While Russia is more prosperous than Ukraine and its democratic opposition less influential, the U.S. should be thinking long-term. We simply don’t know when the opportunity will come to detach a satellite like Belarus or even to support a democratic triumph in Russia itself.
For now, the outcome in Ukraine is uncertain. Just hours ago, Putin finalized an agreement with Yanukovych to purchase $15 billion of Ukrainian debt and sharply reduce the price of Russian gas exports. Clearly, Putin is on the defensive and is offering carrots because he is afraid of the backlash against potential sticks. Perhaps the appearance of generosity will sap the protesters’ will. Or perhaps their anger will flare at yet another brazen demonstration of Putin’s disregard for the popular will. Without reforms, the Russian bailout amounts to little more than a stopgap measure. The struggle will continue. The U.S. and Europe should continue to stand behind the Ukrainian majority, because our interests and theirs are now the same.