Putin is a menace who should not be appeased, but NATO was reckless in its proposed expansion to Ukraine

Vladimir Putin is a bully and a menace. Standing up for his victims will always feel right, and appeasing him overtly would certainly be wrong. But Russia must be handled with cleverness and care. The West has put itself in an awkward position by overreaching unnecessarily on NATO membership for Ukraine, writes Dan Perry in Ask Questions Later.

It has been argued that the main driver behind the current crisis in the region is not NATO but rather the Russian president’s imperialism and rejection of Ukrainian independence. No doubt this is true: Putin covets Ukraine in a way that factors into his grievance at Russia being “plundered” at the end of the Cold War.

But big power diplomacy is not quite so cut-and-dry. By toying with an extension of the Western military alliance to a few hundred kilometers from Moscow, NATO handed Putin a pretext that looks reasonable to his people, which is a tool this kind of despot will happily employ.

Moreover, by extending NATO to the steppe its member states would be undertaking commitments that many among their people are far from eager to honor. Polls show that favorability toward NATO is painfully low in key countries like Germany, France, Italy and Spain, which would be confirmed on the ground by anyone who talks to the people. So there is a fakery at play, of a sort that rarely prospers.

What is needed now is a way for the West to quietly climb down from that without making it look like appeasement – for a bully, once appeased, may well return demanding more. A reasonable strategy would be offering Ukraine accelerated EU membership instead, alongside genuinely punishing sanctions against Russia.

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