To deal with Putin directly, of course, is to play into his hands, building him up as the “indispensable” figure that he and his minions believe him to be, thereby reducing the pressure the impact of sanctions and other measures on him to end his aggression against Ukraine and his threats to Europe and the rest of the world.
But in a world of instant telephone communications, jet planes, and commentators clamoring for exactly such contacts as the best way to “solve” any problem, few Western leaders, themselves often having achieved such positions because of their confidence in their own personal abilities to deal with situations, will be able to follow Grybauskaite’s advice.
Indeed, even as she was making those comments, Russian news agencies were reporting that French President Francois Holland is going to meet with Putin in Moscow today, something one can be sure Moscow will promote and many in the West will accept as “welcome progress” toward a resolution of “the Ukrainian problem”.
Obviously, there are times when such talks are necessary and useful but only when they are in fact carefully prepared in advance by agreements reached at lower levels. But talking to an authoritarian dictator so obviously living in his own alternative reality is both counter-productive and dangerous because it will only convince him that he can win without changing course.
President Grybauskaite is right. Her recommendation should be followed. Isolating Putin in the way she proposes is, given what the Kremlin leader continues to do and say, even more important than any new sanctions regime or even further declines in the price of oil, however welcome those will be.