Walter Russell Mead overreacts in typical fashion to the news that the Ukrainian government is backing away from reaching an agreement with the EU:

Put this together with Putin’s success in keeping Assad in power and not since Adolf Hitler bamboozled France and Britain has a world leader with so few cards to play made such headway.

Mead’s analysis of these things swings wildly from one pole to another depending on the latest developments. Earlier this year, Mead was speculating that Armenia might be about to leave Moscow’s orbit, which he based on some recent Armenian discontent with Moscow. Shortly thereafter, Armenia declared its intention to join Russia’s customs union, which was what most Armenians reportedly wanted all along. Last month, he declared that “Russian power is waning,” and cited Ukraine’s negotiations with the EU as proof. Then when Ukraine acts in a way he didn’t expect, he overcorrects by crediting Putin with engineering the greatest diplomatic triumphs in the last seventy-five years. In Mead’s world, Russia never muddles along as the status quo power that it is. It is either scoring huge victories or fading into irrelevance.

Moscow benefited from the EU’s confused efforts in securing a deal with Ukraine, but it is important to understand that Russia had significant leverage over Ukraine that made such a deal unlikely because Moscow was prepared to block it. Russia was actively opposing the deal, but the EU was half-pushing Ukraine back towards Moscow with its conditions. It would be more accurate to call this is a missed opportunity for the EU, and Russia’s success shouldn’t be exaggerated. The opportunity was missed because most European governments aren’t nearly as interested in pulling Ukraine into their orbit as Moscow is interested in keeping things as they are, and because of that the EU wasn’t able to give Ukraine enough incentives to agree. Once the disagreement over Tymoshenko and the real costs of implementing an agreement with the EU are factored in, Ukraine’s decision isn’t that hard to understand.