The 'right to self-determination of peoples' that has been held up with such ceremonial pathos in Europe is an ambivalent category. In reality, Europe only wants the 'right to self-determination' for nations exactly as they currently exist. ... Not only does the Crimea crisis unmask the heavy-handed superpower aspirations of Russia and its attention-hungry president, it also uncovers Europe's inner weaknesses, as well as the continent's ambiguities. Putin serves only too well as a scapegoat."Wolfram Weimer is a thoughtful and accomplished writer who sets out a very perceptive and well-written series of problems the Russian annexation is making Europe confront: the time horizon which goes back to 395 A.D. at the death of Theodosius I, when the Roman Empire was divided into East & West. The East/West division became greater with the split between Catholic and Orthodox in 1054. And the Crimea has been Russian since Catherine the Great conquered the Khanate in the 18th century, only Ukrainian since 1954 when Ukrainian-born Khrushchev "gave" Russian Crimea to the Ukraine as a "gift." Europe's time frame is about 1900 while Russia mindsets go back to before Peter the Great westernized Russia around 1700. Russia still has a sense of inferiority which it paradoxically offsets with extreme statements of universality and political/military suppression/invasion of its neighbors. Putin is seen in this light as an ill-mannered lower class thug seeking attention and touting a petrostate nationalism that embarrasses well-educated Russians [whom Putin would call "westernized" as an insult.]
Weimer speaks of Putin's own resentment of US/European "dominance" which criticizes Russian intervention and hegemony while moving NATO eastward & almost imperceptibly imposing its own political, economic & cultural dominance. Putin is now attempting to shift the Russian mindset eastward with an assertion of its unique contributions to both East & West.
Weimer hits the ball in Western Europe's court when criticizing the Crimean plebiscite for inclusion in Russia conflicts with the many movements in Europe for regional autonomy: Castile/Catalonia, Basques/Madrid, Scotland/England, Occitan & Corsica/France, even Venice/Italy and so on. The balkanization of Western Europe may be occurring in slow motion while Russia agglomerates its empire in the same fashion. Finland reportedly is the latest border state to join the menu of border states that Putin may consider pressuring into a closer relationship.
Economically, Europe also has an identity problem with its subsidiary relationship with both the US & Russia, where especially Russia considers the West as a 'grocery store' where an exchange of oil & gas buys baubles and bangles for its nomenklatura.
Weimer finally pinpoints Germany's lack of Realpolitik in punching below its weight as the leading power of Europe while ceding all western initiative to the U.S. And the German inability to see the Crimea as anything except "western" also narrows its own perceptions of the problem at hand. No one takes German threats of sanctions seriously, including Putin.
And Weimer says that as for Putin:
'the Crimea crisis unmask the heavy-handed superpower aspirations of Russia and its attention-hungry president, it also uncovers Europe's inner weaknesses, as well as the continent's ambiguities. Putin serves only too well as a scapegoat. The repressive czar of an oilgarchy; a dissenter who treats homosexuals and journalists like annoying flies; a militarist and former member of the KGB who places the right of the strong above legal strength; the lower-class macho man - it's so easy (and repeatedly justified) to simply view Putin as Europe's villain.Weimer concludes that the Crimean crisis may reveal much to Europeans if they can accept a nuanced view of Russia as more than the thuggish reign of its new czar. Europe's own identity and self-esteem are also involved in the Crimean crisis, and Germany in particular has to play a more assertive role.
[[[FOOTNOTE]]]Since Angela Merkel speaks fluent Russian and Putin grammatically-correct heavy-accented German, it seems that economic superpower Germany has a key role in mutual self-understanding [although Merkel's comment after a recent conversation with Putin did wonder if the very short 5'2" czar was living in a world of fantasy!!]