The conflict over Ukraine is pregnant with potentially the most significant geo-political shifts in the CEE and Europe since 1989.
If the EU loses it will cease to exist in its present form. If Putin is seen losing - his rule is over - given due process.
A win - win magic is hardly possible at the moment. Putin will not change - it is too late for him to do things differently.
The West has been criticizing the Russian leader for its own failures to desing and implement a Russia inclusive type of policy. The EU/US never offered Russia a parallel track to the one offered CE and some former Soviet Union republics - NATO and EU. Need not be a full membership but a more broadly defined framework for integration along the US-TTIF context - be it remote and conditional - based on criteria and milestone accomplishment.
It is of course Russia's fault as well as Putin did his utmost to destroy his image in the gas supply cuts and the invasiton in Georgia. The fruits of this policy line of Kremlin will be harvested at the Olymic Games in Sochi - with more and more Western politicians deciding not to go.
But pretending Russia does not exist is not an option. Not sure it is at all in the interests of the West to let China spill over its dominance in Siberia and the Far East by default, which will inevitably happen should the EU choose to ignore Russia once again..
Putin is not the ultimate evil - he has been left on his own with high priced oil (after 2003) which led to oveflowing coffers and he has done what his instincts and the Russian history of imperial tradition can deliver - an introvert authoritarian regime. He is fighting over Ukraine not because he wants to hold it for himself as a buffer against some form of invasion from the West. He can't afford it ands there is nothing he can offer instead in the long run- at least at par with Kiev's access to the EU market, including to capital and technology markets. He fights back because he feels he will be left alone and isolated - the Russian leader wants to be noticed and talked to - be it quite often in a heavy handed way - of which the reported deployment of the Iskander missiles is an eloquent proof.
It is my belief that the EU and the US should not alienate Russia - but while standing up of the right of Ukraine to make its choices - offer and engage Moscow in a positive and inclusive agenda beyond Ukraine - such as assistance to help restart Russia's economy on a modernization track (where Putin failed miserably). This could in time expand into a long term integration process - with the lifting of visas coming naturally down the road. The EU should help Moscow develop Siberia and the Far East as part of the European economic hinterland.
Do not over focus on Putin alone - think of the guys that will come after him - Navalny, Khodorkovsky, think of the middle class Russians that are protesting on the streets of Moscow, the Russians that prefer to save their money in EU banks and send theit kids to EU schools and families to EU cities and resorts - what I call the European Russians. These Russians are proud patriots of their own country -even moderate natiionalists in their own way - as we all are - but there is nothing that the West should be afraid of - their value set is close or identical to the mainstream in the West.
The euro-Russians are a powerful minority and a more creative and constructive inclusive approach from the West will help them come forth and win the internal debate in Russia that Ukraine's association to the EU is a prelude to Russia's own convergence - be it slow and painful - with the West and not a mortal danger..