Putin rekindles the glow of empire
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Empires have spilled blood and spent treasure for control of Crimea for more than 2,500 years. It took Russian President Vladimir Putin less than three weeks—and not a single shot fired in anger—to wrest the peninsula from Ukraine. On March 18, two days after a referendum showed that a majority of Crimeans wanted to be annexed, Putin signed a decree formalizing the arrangement.
The U.S. and its European allies barely had time to prepare a round of mild sanctions—mainly travel restrictions and asset freezes for a handful of officials—which the master of the Kremlin shrugged off.
For Putin, the punishment pales before the political prize. The annexation of Crimea has pushed his popularity higher than it’s been in three years—to 72% in two nationwide polls, up almost 10% since the invasion of Crimea began. Roughly the same percentage of respondents said at the start of February that they did not want Russia to intervene at all in Ukraine’s internal affairs. But for Russians, the conquest of Crimea was not seen as an intervention. It felt like a rightful return to the status of empire that Russia had lost after the fall of the Soviet Union.