At the beginning of the Crimea showdown, geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group told Business Insider that the West could do very little besides protest if Russia decided to invade the strategic Ukrainian peninsula and/or Crimea seceded to Russia.
The next day, Feb. 28, Russian troops began commandeering key roads and surrounding all of the Ukrainian military bases in Crimea. Today, the Crimean parliament effectively seceded, pending a referendum in 10 days.
The White House subsequently announced sanctions on unnamed Russian and Crimean individuals, said that any referendum would be illegitimate without the cooperation of the new government in Kiev, and called the crisis in Ukraine an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”
Here is America’s play at this point, according to Bremmer:
“Russia is not going to back down from Crimea, irrespective of U.S. pressure. Which means if the U.S. wants to find any resolution here, they’re going to have to find a way to come to terms with that. Now that the Crimean parliament has voted — clearly with Russian assent — we’ll have a referendum … and then further militarization of the peninsula by the Russians.”
There are already indications of that further militarization: Crimea’s Kremlin-backed deputy prime minister denounced the surrounded Ukrainian armed forces on the peninsula as ‘occupiers’ and said they must surrender or leave the territory; journalists have been threatened and kicked out of the region at gunpoint; independent military observers were blocked from entering; and the Russian scuppered a ship to block a bay in western Crimea.
Bremmer recommends that the U.S. accept the situation in Crimea and use it to get the Russians to honour the territorial integrity of the rest of Ukraine and recognise the new government in Kiev.
“The U.S. has provided itself a bit of an out by saying that the Ukrainian government needs to be involved in any discussion on a referendum. There’s the challenge — the present Ukrainian government is going to be very hard pressed to accept it. Behind the scenes, the U.S. (and the Europeans) should be working to get the Ukrainians to accept a referendum on [Crimea] in exchange for Russian recognition of Ukrainian territorial integrity and a process that will lead to the election of a new Ukrainian government. Secretary Kerry would be able to spin that as a Russian climbdown … that’s a reasonable outcome for the White House.”
That may sound link sounds like a capitulation, but it would involve no more bloodshed and big diplomatic step forward (given the Kremlin’s position). Consequently, Bremmer argues that it’s the best case in the circumstances.
“The alternative is an escalation of sanctions that are ineffectual, the Russian government responding in kind, and the Ukrainian people getting caught in the crossfire (while the Europeans largely sit on the sidelines),” Bremmer told BI.”I don’t see how that benefits the U.S. government.”
Secretary of State John Kerry seems to be taking a different position, telling reporters that “Crimea is Ukraine” and the U.S. supports “the territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
In any case, the stakes are the highest they have been since the Cold War, and it’s still uncertain how far Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to push.
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