In his first years as president of Russia, Putin seemed to be different -- a smart operator who was ready to modernize his creaky, leaking barge of a country. President
Instead of modernizing, Putin and his cronies turned the Kremlin into a kleptocracy bankrolled by oil money -- Saudi Arabia with nuclear missiles. To undercut his rivals and stifle dissent, Putin exploited the deep suspicion of outsiders that has long been part of the Russian political culture. But that was not an entirely cynical tactic. Putin also shared that deep distrust. The West, in Putin's mind, was encircling Russia and whittling away at what was left of its empire.
Having witnessed the loss of the Soviet satellites and other regions that were historically within the Russian orbit, Putin was not willing to lose any more. Ukraine became the trip wire. Long an integral part of greater Russia, Ukraine's two decades of independence was an affront. To see Ukraine go the way of Poland or Lithuania could not be tolerated.
Putin had his protege,
We know what happened next. Yanukovich was ousted by a revolt in the streets of Kiev. Putin sent in Russian troops to seize
Now, like a petulant adolescent, Putin blames everyone but himself for the disaster that has turned the world against him. In no way is he willing to admit that his ruthless and duplicitous actions in Ukraine created the conditions that led to the deaths of 298 innocent travelers.
Putin has boxed himself in. The fierce nationalism that he has encouraged at home and in his ruling political circle could be turned against him if he admits fault and backs down in Ukraine. But continued lies and defiance of international norms will lead to harsher economic sanctions from Europe and the U.S. and further isolation of his country.