David Adesnik responds to what he dubs the “realist argument” on Ukraine:
While I agree with Gvosdev and Adomanis that Ukraine isn’t any sort of grand geopolitical leverage point, it’s [sic] turning westward would be a visible blow to Putin’s prestige. Certainly in the Middle East, we’ve seen the damage that can be done by a confident Putin. The “loss” of Ukraine would also expose Putin to his own people as a leader whose bluster only damages Russia’s reputation. While a defeat for Putin in the Ukraine would hardly guarantee a resurgence of opposition at home, I think it would create a vulnerability that could be exploited at some future moment. That is why, from where I stand, realism means standing with the protestors in Euromaidan.
Considering the latest agreement reached with Russia, the “westward” turn seems even less likely to happen than it did earlier in the month. This was the point Gvosdev was making: it isn’t happening, and both Brussels and Washington are coming to terms with the reality that it isn’t. Gvosdev said that there simply wasn’t enough interest in Ukraine for Western governments to justify the expense of a more generous deal, and in the absence of substantial support from the West the opposition would be in a bad position even if they succeeded in taking power. Adomanis also made the case that Ukraine would be a liability for whichever side “won” it, which raises the question of why Western governments would want to compete for such a “prize.”
Since Adesnik more or less agrees with this assessment of the value of “winning” Ukraine, it make no sense for him to say that “realism” requires support for the protesters. It is hard to see what the U.S. or European governments would get out of this except an opportunity to spite Putin. I suspect that hawks overestimate how much damage Putin would suffer politically from a “loss” in Ukraine, but even if Putin were humiliated and undermined in the near term that would in all likelihood lead to a more antagonistic Russia in the future that would be potentially more dangerous for its neighbors. The goal here shouldn’t be to encourage antagonistic relations between Ukraine and its larger neighbor, since Ukraine will be the one that suffers the consequences while the U.S. and EU will get much of the blame, but that is very likely to be the result of what Adesnik recommends.