Edward Lucas makes some reasonable observations in his op-ed on Ukraine and the EU, but then veers into hysteria by the end:
But if Ukraine falls into Russia’s grip, then the outlook is bleak and dangerous. Not only will authoritarian crony capitalism have triumphed in the former Soviet Union, but Europe’s own security will also be endangered [bold mine-DL]. NATO is already struggling to protect the Baltic states and Poland from the integrated and increasingly impressive military forces of Russia and Belarus. Add Ukraine to that alliance, and a headache turns into a nightmare.
This is wrong on several points. The West didn’t “lose” Ukraine, since it had never really “won” it in the first place, and the EU’s failure reflected the extent to which most of Europe wasn’t interested in “winning” it over. European security is not endangered if Ukraine has closer relations with Russia. NATO is not “struggling” to protect its easternmost members, and there are now NATO contingency plans for the defense of these states. While Russia is throwing ever more money at its military, it is doing so in part because “impressive” is exactly what it is not. No one is talking about Ukraine joining a military alliance now or in the future. Ukraine has already made its lack of interest in joining any military bloc quite clear. Even if it did so, that would mean that Russia would reap the benefits of Ukraine’s meager $2 billion annual military budget (1.1% of GDP). (Belarus’ military spending is understandably not very great.) This is not a nightmare in the making. It would be at most a ramshackle coalition that would pose no more of a serious threat to European security than Russia does right now. There is evidently a strong need among some in the West to make Ukraine’s political turmoil about us in some way, but it’s simply not credible.
The best way Europe or America can help Ukraine—and Georgia and Moldova—is to take a much tougher stance with Russia.
That’s a bad idea for a few reasons. Taking a “tougher stance” with Russia will do nothing to dissuade Moscow from its goals, but it will give the Kremlin added incentive to try to increase its influence. Moscow interpreted the “toughness” of the previous decade as a threat, and there is every reason to believe that it would do so again. The price for these shows of “toughness” would be paid by the citizens of the countries that Western governments are ostensibly trying to help. The worse that relations between Moscow and Western governments become, the worse things will tend to be for the countries bordering Russia, especially when they are perceived to be states that Western governments are trying to pull out of Moscow’s orbit. The smartest thing that the U.S. and the EU could do would be to acknowledge that they aren’t willing to assume the costs that “winning” Ukraine would entail, scale back the EU’s ambitions in eastern Europe, and stop confusing the desire to thwart Moscow with what is best for Russia’s neighbors.