The Ukrainian crisis is in flux, with ultimatums, warnings and diplomatic statements being issued while troops are on the move. Even with the uncertainty in daily events, several things seem clear.
Crimea is lost to Ukraine. The only question is whether Russia annexes it outright, or whether there is an international deal that lets everyone claim a degree of victory but leaves the peninsula essentially a Russian province in all but name.
Actually, that’s not the only question. It remains to be seen if Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ambitions stop at Crimea or whether he seeks a breakup of Ukraine with its eastern and southern industrial, agricultural, Russian-speaking heartland turned into a satellite state for Moscow.
Maybe some unexpected turn of events — a related economic crisis in Russia — might possibly alter this pessimistic course. But history dating to the Soviet Union’s invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia shows Moscow won’t be stopped.
No military option exists. Some suggest sending U.S. warships to the Black Sea or ordering a NATO troop movement to Poland. That would be empty saber-rattling since neither America nor the European Union wants to fight for Ukraine.
What about economic sanctions?
Russia is much more involved in the international banking and investment community than the Soviet Union was, so Moscow is more vulnerable to banking asset freezes or investment retribution.
But the economic relationship is a two-way street. Markets worldwide tanked on news of the crisis. Europe’s banks profit from Russian deposits, and European companies from commerce and trade with Russia. It remains the source of half the natural gas Europe consumes.
We’ve heard calls for the West to kick Moscow out of the prestigious G-8 club of economic powerhouse nations. German officials, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, are cool to a G-8 expulsion and sanctions. Sanctions require a united front.
Perhaps sanctions aimed at individual leaders and companies might cause Putin to moderate his stance — moderate it, but not change it.
Given Russia’s flexing of its military muscle, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Putin, like much of the rest of the world, thinks President Barack Obama will go to any lengths to avoid conflict. The Russian boss took Obama’s measure when he rescued the president from his red-line promise to punish Syria for using chemical weapons.
Obama didn’t learn from Putin’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 when George W. Bush was president. Obama proceeded with his famous reset with Moscow on the foolish premise that Bush was the source of all America’s problems overseas. During the 2012 presidential campaign, Obama ridiculed Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s statement that Russia was America’s “No. 1 geopolitical foe.” Romney was right.
Perceptions of U.S. weakness are reinforced by the administration’s decision to reduce the army to its pre-World War II size.
The result of all that was Putin showed only contempt for Obama’s warning not to invade Ukraine. Tough talk from the White House doesn’t reflect today’s realities.
Crimea was part of Russia until 1954 when Nikita Khrushchev gave it to Soviet Ukraine, sure, as seemed the case then, that the Soviet Union was permanent. Crimea, located on the Black Sea, is home of Russia’s only warm water port. After the collapse of the Soviet empire, Ukraine was guaranteed Crimea under a treaty in which Kiev gave up nuclear weapons. Surprise, surprise, Putin doesn’t respect international treaties.