Vladimir Putin’s campaign to divide, destabilize, and dismantle Ukraine has reached a new phase with this week’s surge of violence in the pivotal Black Sea port of Odessa. As bands of armed ethnic Russian brigands battle Ukrainian government security forces in cities big and small throughout eastern Ukraine, the stakes for the West become all the more clear.
Putin has a plan — disrupt Ukraine’s May 25 presidential elections in order to delegitimize the interim government in Kiev. Moscow can then retain effective control over Ukraine’s future. The American and European response — weak, disjointed, and ineffective — hasn’t been nearly as impressive. All this matters because what happens in Ukraine is important to American interests in a still-vital Europe. Here are three reasons why.