Ever since Russia invaded and occupied Crimea and then launched its war against Ukraine in the Donbas in 2014, it's been a challenge for the West to develop a tough and unified response to the Kremlin.
Remarkably, four years on, support for modest sanctions is still holding. However, politicians are sending out dangerous signals all over Europe that the consensus against Russia's lawlessness and war crimes may be coming to an end.
In Italy, new Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on June 5 called for an end to sanctions on Russia. One of the powers behind Conte’s throne, the populist and far-right League party, led by Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, is supported by the Kremlin.
A couple of days before Conte's remarks, another politician from a far-right party, Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, made the same call. Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Austria on June 5.
A few days before that, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called for an end to “Russia bashing.”
Putin also has friendly relations with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Czech President Milos Zemen. French President Emmanuel Macron, who started in office promisingly by denouncing Putin’s propaganda at a joint press conference during the Kremlin leader’s visit to France in May 2017, was by May 2018 in St. Petersburg, there to bless a multibillion-dollar liquefied natural gas project between France’s Total and Russian gas firm Novatek.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is no friend of Putin, but even she was in Russia recently to discuss the U.S. pullout of the Iran nuclear deal. These are big cracks in the Western position on Russia. U.S. President Donald J. Trump is making the situation worse, driving wedges between America and its European allies by tearing up international agreements and by threatening to impose tariffs on European steel and aluminum, as well as German luxury cars.
The incompetent Trump has shown the West the importance of having U.S. global leadership -- and how much it is missed when it disappears. Abandonment of unity against Russia might be one sad result. Besides Russia's strength, Ukraine now has to worry about Western weakness.