Despite an ongoing war in the Donbas; despite the ongoing occupation of Crimea, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia; despite the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal with a nerve agent in the U.K.; despite all of this, there are still hopes in Western capitals for some form of detente, some kind of reset, some type of thaw with Moscow during Vladimir Putin's fourth term.
In a letter congratulating Putin on his reelection this week, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker wrote the following:
"Our common objective should be to re-establish a cooperative pan-European security order. I hope that you will use your fourth term to pursue this goal. I will always be a partner in this endeavor."
OK, here's the thing.
We can be certain that Putin will use his fourth term to pursue this endeavor.
We can be fairly certain of this because, well, he has used his first three terms -- as well as Dmitry Medvedev's fake presidency -- to chase this goal as well.
And what does a "pan-European security order" mean for Putin's Kremlin?
Well, we know, because Putin and his surrogates have told us again and again and again.
It means what Moscow calls a "privileged sphere of influence" in the former Soviet space.
What this effectively means is a 21st-century version of Yalta. It means Western recognition that the sovereignty of Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova is conditional at best.
It means relegating Russia's neighbors to the fate of effectively being Russian colonies.
Does the West truly want to be a partner in such an endeavor?