Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarussian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk, December 14, 2007.
Courtesy Reuters

There is a bitter irony at the heart of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea. Putin’s short-term victory is already coming at the expense of his most cherished long-term strategy -- the creation of a Eurasian Union, a trade union linking Russia and its closest neighbors. In other words, as the invasion expands Russian territory, it will diminish Russian influence in the very places he’d like to increase it. One need only look to Belarus, which is already beginning to hedge against its alliance with Moscow, to see why.

Fanciful as it might sound, the Eurasian Union was never idle talk for Putin. It was meant to serve as a genuine alternative to the West for the countries bordering Russia, including those on Europe’s eastern frontier. For now, only Belarus and Kazakhstan have volunteered to be part of the formal January 2015 launch. But Putin has

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