FROM THE ANTHOLOGY: The New Global Context

Putin's Wager

Why the Kremlin Is Betting on Escalation and Isolation

President Vladimir Putin speaks during a ceremony unveiling a World War I monument in Moscow, August 2014. Yuri Kochetkov / Courtesy Reuters

After Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, a catastrophe almost certainly the work of Russian-backed rebels, the United States and the EU implemented new, wider-reaching sanctions. Russian President Vladimir Putin responded by redoubling his Ukraine policy. Rather than distancing itself from the militia groups, Moscow has stepped up its support, transferring arms, providing diplomatic cover, and even ordering Russian forces to fire on Ukrainian military targets across the border. Given the opportunity to abandon an increasingly costly policy, Putin has chosen to escalate.

In so doing, he is steering his country toward a period of prolonged isolation and economic difficulty. U.S. President Barack Obama suggested last week that Putin is behaving irrationally. "Objectively speaking, President Putin should want to resolve this diplomatically, to get these sanctions lifted," Obama said. There is a limit to what the United States can achieve, he added, when

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