It’s all over but the shouting
1. Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich held his first press conference yesterday since fleeing Kiev in Rostov on Don, in southern Russia not far from the Sea of Azov (and Crimea). He was not in Moscow and has only talked to Russian President Putin by phone. Putin has not committed to back Yanukovich’s claim to still being President, or his insistence on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
2. President Obama went to the briefing room to warn Russia
the United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.
What those costs might be is not clear. There are rumors of canceling a G-8 meeting, which won’t bring tears to Russian eyes.
3. The Prime Minister of Crimea has asked Putin for help. Security contractors who work for the Russian military have taken over Crimea’s airports and pro-Russian paramilitaries have taken over government buildings in the province. Russian helicopters have flown into Crimea.
4. The Ukrainian government in Kiev has accused Moscow of
an armed invasion and occupation.
5. The upper house of the Russian parliament has approved use of Russia’s armed forces on the territory of Ukraine.
6. Russian President Putin has said nothing.
Bottom line: It looks as if Russia has already taken a big slice of what it wants–effective control of the main governance and security centers in Crimea. Similar moves in Russian-speaking portions of Moldova and Georgia have led to “frozen” conflicts in which Moscow occupies portions of those countries, backing up Russian-speaking local governments, despite many international community (not to mention Moldovan and Georgian) protests.
I’ll be happy to be proved wrong, but it is likely Moscow has already succeeded in putting Crimea back within its control, speedily and without firing a shot. Moscow is showing little interest in the rest of Ukraine, which is an economic and financial mess it will be glad to see picked up by Europe, the US and the International Monetary Fund. You’ve got to admire the statecraft, even if you object to the outcome.
The downward spiral in US/Russian relations won’t, as some fear, generate a new Cold War, because the ideological clash is not dominant and Russia no longer poses the global threat to America’s interests that the Soviet Union once did. But we could certainly see some some future tit-for-tat. The Washington Post is calling for heavy diplomatic and economic sanctions. It is not clear what those might be. Military action against the Russians in Crimea would be foolhardy.
Whatever he does, President Obama has to worry about Russian retaliation. That could take the form of hindering US withdrawal from Afghanistan through the northern distribution network, which Russia controls, or hampering P5+1 (US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany) coordination of the nuclear talks with Iran. Moscow wouldn’t mind keeping the US in Afghanistan a while longer, as it fears the consequences of withdrawal. It is less likely to mess with the nuclear talks, as they are aimed at preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons, which Moscow definitely doesn’t want to see happen.
It’s all over but the shouting, which may go on for a long time.