The West is obsessed by the pandemic. International politics has all but disappeared from the public conversation, so that few people seem concerned by the imperial ambitions of the new Russia.

I refer to the ferocious repression in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and the images of Russian tanks there, eerily similar to those in Budapest in 1956 and Prague in 1968. And to the 150,000 Russian troops massed near the border with Ukraine, holding the Europeans of Kyiv’s Freedom Square at gunpoint. And to the draft “treaty” delivered to the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on Dec. 17, a document that Françoise Thom, in an article in Desk Russie, reveals to be, in Moscow’s eyes, a veritable ultimatum. 

Ms. Thom quotes Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko as saying that if the U.S. and NATO fail to meet Moscow’s demands, they will face “a military-technical alternative” and will see “the continent” become “the theater of a military confrontation.” Gen. Andrey Kartapolov, a former vice minister of defense, raises the possibility of “a pre-emptive strike.” Of Russia’s firing of Zircon hypersonic cruise missiles on Dec. 24, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he hoped they would make the Dec. 17 proposal “more convincing.”

Never before have Russian officials expressed themselves publicly this way. Vladimir Mojegov, whom an article in French on the Russian website Sputnik calls a “political analyst and Americanist,” jokes that the same Zircon missiles are “more reliable allies” for Russia, that they can “crack a destroyer like a nut,” and that they are capable of “shooting at unwieldy aircraft carriers like a pistol at a can.” The pro-Putin Svobodnaya Pressa asserted that if NATO is enlarged, Russia “will bury Europe and two-thirds of the United States in half an hour.” 

This rising extremism only half-surprises me. 

I have feared its coming since August 2013, when President Obama, in Syria, gave the signal to retreat and ushered in a world without America. 

I took its full measure in Amsterdam in 2019 during a public debate with Alexander Dugin, one of Mr. Putin’s ideologues and a proponent of neo-Eurasianism. 

But it would be good if this extremism hit home with high-ranking European officials who continue to see Russia as a peaceful neighbor surrounded by ill-behaved Westerners, or Mr. Putin as a leader trying simply to defend his right to his personal space, his lebensraum, his cordon sanitaire

It would be very good if the sleepwalkers in France, America and the rest of the world would wake and hear Russian military expert Konstantin Sivkov musing about Russia’s “nuclear potential” to “physically eliminate” Europe and explaining that, at the end of this hypothetical nuclear war, “there will be . . . almost no survivors.” 

There remain, among supposedly enlightened Western thinkers, many fools who would accept the annexation of Crimea to avoid the annexation of Ukraine, and then the invasion of Ukraine to prevent an invasion of the Balkans, followed by the subjugation of the Balkans to ward off the Finlandization of the Baltic states, the neutralization of Poland, and even the placing under Russian tutelage of the great states of Western Europe. This is all reminiscent of the appeasement that produced the 1938 Munich Pact. 

Mr. Putin has declared war on Europe, and the West. It is a cold war, a war deferred, with an Iron Curtain falling (for the moment) along the Ukrainian frontline. But it is a war all the same.

Its instigator now bears in history’s eyes the immense responsibility of having broken the taboo against war, which has preserved the safety of the European Continent twice devastated by world war. During the 80-odd days leading up to the presidential election in France, there should be no issue more pressing than this programmatic kidnapping, as Milan Kundera might put it, by one of our worst enemies. 

Mr. Lévy is author of “The Will to See: Dispatches From a World of Misery and Hope.”

Appeared in the January 19, 2022, print edition as ‘Putin Is Waging War On Europe.’

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