Any thought of countering Russian ambitions in Europe must be premised on the fact that Western Europeans’ interest in doing this is verbal at best. Absent Western Europe’s active cooperation, U.S. attempts to strengthen the front line states of the former Warsaw Pact and of the former Soviet Union would face formidable hurdles and perhaps invite Russia to test our seriousness.
Hence the proximate question must be how Western Europe’s attitude might be changed. The only possible answer seems to be the same as what would be America’s fallback position were “Old Europe” to persist in its current attitude, namely: to inform all concerned that, given the circumstances, the American people having no intention of wasting resources on a foredoomed cause, we would make no effort whatever to counter Russian ambitions in Europe. Only the prospect of being helpless inside Russia’s sphere of influence stands a chance of leading “old Europe” to reflect on how tender Russia’s mercy to those within it really are.
Beyond that, American statecraft must follow the primordial rule of all professions: Do no harm. Whether by commission or omission, we should avoid helping Russia’s pursuit of its ambitions. That means treating Russia economically and diplomatically as the U.S. government treated the Soviet Union in the 1950s. Russia does not live by commerce with American companies. Its oligarchs can find pleasure palaces on non-U.S. soil. But the USA does not have to institute formal secondary sanctions to tell whoever might interact with Russians that we do not favor Russia’s pretenses and look far more kindly on those who share our view of them than on those who do not.