MOSCOW — With a referendum on secession looming in Crimea, Russia massed troops and armored vehicles in at least three regions along Ukraine’s eastern border on Thursday, alarming the interim Ukraine government about a possible invasion and significantly escalating tensions in the crisis between the Kremlin and the West.
The announcement of the troop buildup by Russia’s Defense Ministry was met with an unusually sharp rebuke from Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who warned that the Russian government must abandon what she called the politics of the 19th and 20th centuries or face diplomatic and economic retaliation from a united Europe.
“Ladies and gentlemen, if Russia continues on its course of the past weeks, it will not only be a catastrophe for Ukraine,” she said in a speech to the German Parliament. “We, also as neighbors of Russia, would not only see it as a threat. And it would not only change the European Union’s relationship with Russia. No, this would also cause massive damage to Russia, economically and politically.”
The welfare states of Western Europe, safe under the American military umbrella, have for generations poured their wealth into their domestic support nets at the expense of their militaries. As they have done so, they have consoled themselves with the notion that “soft power” – economic, political, cultural, and social – always trumps “hard power” – men, guns, tanks, planes, nuclear bombs.
But now that a combination of Bush failure and Obama intention are withdrawing the protection of the American umbrella, the Europeans are about to discover just how helpless soft power really is when faced by men, guns, tanks, planes, and bombs, and men willing to use them.