As Russia claims Crimea, West struggles amidst threat of a new Cold War
Russian troops were pouring in to besiege Ukrainian bases.
With historic emotional and strategic ties to Crimea, Russia did not need a second invitation to create a pretext – protecting its ethnic Russians. After all, this is the same Crimea that Russia deemed worthy of sacrificing hundreds of thousands of troops to safeguard in a bloody war against an alliance of European and Ottoman forces in the 1850’s.
Putin is an opportunist and knows that a chance to reclaim Crimea does not come every day.
Yet the ethnic pretext in Ukraine is the same one that saw the West stand virtually idle in 2008 when Putin invaded Georgia to protect its citizens, thousands of whom Russia had provided passports, and practically annexed the break-way provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
The crisis over Crimea has many more twists and turns. The Russia parliament has already promised to help their “brothers” with their nationalist wishes if they formally request this as part of the upcoming referendum.
Such a unilateral annexation is in violation of the Ukrainian constitution, Russian treaties with Kiev and international law and is unlikely to be recognised but is Russia really deterred? It has long calculated and presupposed Western reaction and positioning and limits of any repercussions. Threats of sanctions, visa restrictions etc is too predictable and do not carry enough substance.
Indeed as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned, any sanctions would certainly have a “boomerang effect” on the West. For a start, Ukraine already owes millions in gas payments to Gazprom. In 2009, a two week Russian suspension of gas supplies to Ukraine and in turn to the rest of Europe via transit pipelines crippled the Ukrainian population and countries that relied on Russian gas. All because Russia wanted to hike transit fees and extend the lease of its Black Sea Fleet and ensure that Ukraine remained in its sphere of influence.
Western rhetoric, in particular of the Unites States and its President Barrack Obama, however strong in nature, has become too predictable. War of words will not solve any crisis that turns into a war of guns.
The US has tried to “reset” ties with Moscow in recent years but Moscow has pursued its national interests first and has not hesitated to take action that alienates Washington.
This could not be truer of Syria. Obama has tip-toed, repeated the same rhetoric against Bashar al-Assad and has drawn and redrawn “red lines” for 3 over years. Russia on the other hand, did not hesitate to go neck-deep in the conflict to protect its strategic interests in Syria and the Mediterranean.
Russia has single-handedly propped the Syrian regime and has done it with little regard to Western or regional pressure. A lack of US muscle and more importantly a united Western stand in Syria has led to a disjointed foreign policy and an even more disjointed opposition movement.
Now in Ukraine, the West has to find a united position quickly. Western goals of seeking a diplomatic solution and continuing dialogue would certainly make Russia “smile” as they recently stated. After all, it just buys more time. Before the West finishes discussing Crimea, it may long have become a de facto part of Russia.
Any policy of appeasement is certainly going to back-fire. Western allies or Ukrainians do not have the appetite to fight Russia militarily so if sanctions and political pacts do not have the desired effect, will the crisis stop at Crimea? How about most of Eastern Ukraine which is proRussian and has been the subject of many protests?
Protecting its citizens becomes a template in which Russia policy can be repeated for its benefit.