If Putin, indeed, is pulling his troops back from the Ukraine border, he will have set in motion a form of political theater that offers three beleaguered presidents the chance to heal their domestic political ills.
Putin, Biden, and France’s Macron have each won what they needed most. This form of theater carries with it a curious parallel to “The Wizard of Oz”:
• Vladimir Putin, increasingly reviled as a war monger, will find that his withdrawal burnishes his credentials as a man of peace and a statesman (even though he was alleviating a crisis entirely of his own making). The Tin Man gets a heart.
• Joe Biden, dropping in polls and accused of dementia and weakness, can and will claim that his firmness in threatening sanctions made Putin back down. The more evidence pointed to a Putin pullback, the more strident Biden has become in warning him of dire consequences should he invade. The Cowardly Lion gets courage and the Scarecrow gets a brain. A two-for.
• Emmanuel Macron, facing a reelection battle in April, can now claim to have orchestrated a diplomatic solution to Europe’s major crisis reprising France’s long ago role as the leader of Europe. The Wizard demonstrates his mastery.
The phony end to the real crisis of Ukraine belies the fact that Putin really had intended to invade, but he faced the determined response of NATO, the EU, the UK, and, yes, the U.S. He apparently read the handwriting on the wall and decided that Russia’s fragile economy could not handle economic sanctions nor could his waning popularity at home tolerate an economic crisis.
Among the losers are the other cowardly lions who quailed at the Russian threat and, with shaking knees, bid the U.S. to roll over in the face of aggression.
The lesson of Ukraine, if Putin pulls back, is that sanctions work in this age of interdependent economies. They don’t generate the headlines that 100,000 troops on the border do, but they are clearly effective even against great powers.
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