Today is Friday, February 28, 2014.
So we woke up this morning to reports that apparently Russian troops are, indeed, on the ground in Crimea allegedly surrounding the airport and taking down telecommunications to the outside world. Initial estimates from U.S. and European intelligence agencies say there are about 2,000 ‘unidentified’ troops, dressed in civilian and military clothing. Those armed military personnel are masked, have no names, no insignia, and are driving unmarked and unlicensed vehicles. Reporters on the ground have got no response from direct questions to these ‘soldiers’ about who they are and where they’re from.
President Putin of Russia and his foreign minister have suggested that this is completely within the framework of a bilateral agreement with the Ukraine regarding a military presence within the peninsula. That is a strange claim, since 1994 at the Budapest Conference, Russia agreed that the borders of the Ukraine were firm and the country was protected as a completely sovereign nation. Russia, in fact, has been a world leader in promoting national sovereignty, especially as it relates, for example, to Syria. If Russia has ‘invaded’ the Crimean peninsula, Putin has undermined his position regarding national sovereignty as a universal principle.
Crimea was originally part of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, but was ‘given’ to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954. As I said above, the national borders of the Ukraine were confirmed and approved by Russia in 1994, and that included Crimea. The people there are almost all ethnic Russians with only a few Ukrainians. The peninsula is culturally, economically, linguistically, and militarily tied to Moscow, and I would assume that is the reason for Putin’s response to the crisis in the Ukraine. It’s no secret that ethnic Ukrainians have no love for Russia–there’s been a history of hegemonic control, mass murder and starvation at the hands of Russia. The stress of living next to powerful Russia has been a historical nightmare for Ukrainians. Today we have another example of why the Ukrainians wanted guarantees from Russia back in ’94 to honor their sovereign borders.
Russia has much economic leverage over the Ukraine, though. If Russia shut off the valve for natural gas, it would mean as much as a $5 Billion loss for the Ukraine. Their economy is already on the ropes and will clearly need as much economic support from the U.S. and the E.U. as possible in order to keep their economy afloat. The Russian military is already amassed on the eastern border of the Ukraine and there are fleets of tanks and also helicopters flying over Ukrainian territory today. This is ostensibly because of Russian troops stationed at the base in Crimea who will need protection from radical Ukrainian elements that might want to attack any Russian soldiers in the country. There’s also the long-standing agricultural trade between the two countries. Russia plays a very important role in the sustainability of the Ukraine as a nation. This is part of the problem, since the Ukrainians generally would like to see the country turn westward to develop their economic and agricultural trade potential with the E.U. They want to ‘modernize and liberalize’, and they see that possibility only with Western Europe.
So, how will Europe and the U.S. respond to this crisis? Well, clearly they are taking the situation very seriously. There will be no military action, I’m sure, but there are ways to get at Putin and create difficulties for him. For example, the E.U. and the U.S. could step in economically and provide the billions necessary to keep the country afloat. This would make it difficult for Russia as the Ukraine’s largest trade partner and most important country in its economic situation. The U.S. and the E.U. are threatening not to participate in the G-8 Conference to be held in June in Sochi. This would be an embarrassment to Putin, since he has put huge amounts of money into developing the site for this G-8 Conference that he has been planning now for years. NATO could decide to accept Georgia, which would put a NATO country on Russia’s southern border–something completely unacceptable to Russia, and something the U.S. has, for diplomatic reasons, not supported. This situation, however, could change the U.S. position regarding Georgia, which would surely enrage Putin.
If the U.S. and the E.U. could convince the interim government in the Ukraine to include ethnic Russians from the eastern and southern areas of the country in the new government, it would go a long way in showing the world they are ‘one country’ and Russia has no business flexing their muscles in order to ‘protect’ Russians inside the Ukraine. In fact, I believe, this is essential in order to diffuse the situation. It would be a sort of geopolitical checkmate against Russia and it would make it very difficult for Russia to escalate their military involvement.
The U.N. won’t be weighing in on this situation, because Russia is on the Security Council with veto power. This forces the U.S., the E.U. and perhaps China to step up on their own and with one voice to keep Russia from invading. Yet, today, the Ukrainian government has already claimed that Russia has launched an invasion. This is probably a bit overstated, but it creates a crisis that the whole world has to respond to.
This is another event that strains the relationship between Russia and the West. Russians did not respond well to the U.S. and European political leaders not coming to the Olympics. They were, by all accounts, insulted and couldn’t understand the protest against their ‘gay propaganda’ law. For the West once again diplomatically to put Russia on the ropes over the crisis in the Ukraine, further strains the relationship between the two geopolitical regions, because the Russians, in a recent fit of nationalism, generally believe the Crimea belongs to them anyway and if they take it back, it’s no one’s business if they do.
If Russia launches a full-scale invasion of the Ukraine, there will be a serious international crisis that will prove that Putin plans to rebuild a Russian empire and develop a clear hegemony over Eastern Europe. Europe, Asia and the Americas will have to do something to counter such a move. I doubt it will include military action, but it will mean everything short of the military will be thrown at Russia.