I’m not too sure what Oscar would have made of it but here’s my take.
Macho-man mucks it up:
It probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Let’s face it, it had everything to recommend it. You’d look good to the voters back home, you’d be sending a message to NATO, cocking (another) snoot at America, warning a troublesome neighbour to behave and you’d be, in reality, expanding the borders of your country. Why wouldn’t you do it? Well, for one thing if you’d have thought it through instead of beating your chest you’d have realised a couple of things. The first one was that by a bit of quiet diplomacy you’d probably have persuaded the new Ukrainian Government to hold a referendum in Crimea. You see, they (the new government or rebel scum, depending on your perspective) had made a major mistake. The use of Russian language was banned and there was talk of abolishing the Crimean regional government. Both of these things rather surprisingly irritated the rest of the Ukraine and unsurprisingly drew a sharp intake of breath elsewhere. Both ideas were quietly dropped. At that point Vladi could have exercised a bit of restraint, talked to Kiev and maybe strong-armed them into allowing Crimea to become a real autonomous region. Then, if the Crimean government voted to have closer ties with Mother Russia, who could claim it was undemocratic? Let’s face it, NATO (shorthand for the EU and America in this instance) weren’t about to go to war over Crimea. That last point is where Putin has so badly miscalculated. It is true that NATO aren’t about to fight to keep Crimea part of the Ukraine because it is obvious that the area is ethnically Russian, Russian speaking and is basically pro-Russian in outlook. No doubt they were very happy for ‘the lads’ to leave their bases and spend some money in the local economy but, and it’s a big but, there is no real evidence that they actually wanted Russia to invade. Looking at it pragmatically, whilst they probably would vote to join Russia they would rather have had the choice. Nobody was threatening them and nobody was persecuting them. Sure there was unease at the proposals to water-down the regional government but that could have been negotiated away. Kiev would have been pressured by both Russia and the West to do so. Putin’s miscalculation is that the West will do nothing. What he doesn’t seem to realise is he’s put them in the position where they have to do something. He is correct that they don’t think the annexation of Crimea warrants an all-out war but the danger now is that Russia takes the next logical step. Logical to them, that is. It makes military sense to move northeast from the Crimean Peninsular and into the ethnically-Russian area. Why? Because as my Ukrainian friend Alex pointed out that’s where the Crimea gets its water from and there is a network of rivers which provide easy transport. From the Russian perspective to sit where they are could make resupply a problem if NATO do cut-up rough and militarily shore-up the rest of Ukraine. Because Putin hasn’t done this already probably indicates he’s decided to quit whilst he’s ahead. But is he ahead? The EU has more or less agreed to a massive aid package for Ukraine and President Obama is all set to add to it this coming week. Russia may get to keep the Crimean Peninsular and they might have got it anyway but now, instead of being able to browbeat an economically-straightened rest of Ukraine, Russia will have to contend with a state massively supported by the West. That support will probably stop short of military support. Probably but that isn’t a guarantee. If Russia goes ahead with the referendum on Crimean secession, when the inevitable result is announced and if the Ukrainian Government doesn’t immediately do anything suicidal then I wouldn’t rule anything out. Nobody has mentioned the word appeasement yet but they’re thinking it. And what they’re thinking is ‘we’re not making THAT mistake again.’
Poland and the Baltic States:
Understandably right now, these members of both the EU and NATO are feeling nervous. Latvia in particular has a large number of ethnic Russians living there, so is Putin planning on coming and ‘protecting’ them next? The likelihood is not because they are members of NATO, with all that that implies. Poland’s President Bronislaw Komorowski has stated that he doesn’t see the present situation as a direct threat to his country but then he would say that, wouldn’t he? Poland’s foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski has stated that he doesn’t regard the Russian move on Crimea as analogous to the German annexation of the Sudetenland in the 1938, or the Anschluss with Austria the same year. Unfortunately that’s exactly what it looks like and everybody is historically aware of what happened after that.
The real risk for Putin:
Consider this. Right now Poland imports sixty percent of their gas from Russia. By the end of the year an LNG terminal will have been completed allowing the importation of natural gas from Qatar. Talks are being held with Germany about interconnecting gas supply pipes and Poland is set to develop its own shale gas production. The Russian move on the Crimea will spur development of alternate gas supplies throughout Europe. Russia may find that suddenly nobody wants their gas. There were problems with the supply when in 2009 Russia and the Ukraine had a dispute about the price of gas and the EU didn’t ignore the problem, they just didn’t make a song and dance about it. NATO will defend the Baltic States. They have to otherwise NATO is finished. Putin probably isn’t going to push it that far but instead of making Russia a force to be reckoned with in Europe he may in fact have marginalised it, at least in the medium term. Let’s say from the end of 2014 onwards. He has made the EU nervous and they will do something to calm their nerves. In the meantime Putin is riding high at home but will this continue? Right now Russians, swept up in patriotic fervour, are ignoring problems such as corruption, police brutality and slow economic reform. When economic sanctions start to bite and make no mistake, unless Russia finds a way of extricating itself from this self-made mess sanctions will be imposed, things may change for Putin. If Russians are banned from travel in the EU, assets are frozen and the export of luxury goods to Russia curtailed things won’t appear so rosy.
Exclusive: the real reason Russia invaded the Crimea:
Isn’t the Internet a wonderful thing? Now here was me thinking that this was just a bit of Russian expansionism but I was wrong. Consider the following facts. They’re all on the Internet so they must be true. The world’s oldest pyramid complex was discovered in Crimea last year. It probably dates back to at least twenty thousand BCE. At the very least it’s as old as 2012, when according to the Mayans the world as we knew it was going to end. Ah, well slight problem there but there are verifiable reports, to be found on the Internet, that both alien artifacts AND examples of the technology of a previously-undiscovered early human civilisation have been discovered. So now you know the real reason why Russia invaded. Sceptical? Oh no you’re wrong and I can prove it. Those Russian soldiers that aren’t in Crimea at the moment? You know, the one’s carrying Russian weapons, getting out of trucks with Russian number plates and wearing Russian uniforms with no insignia and their faces covered? Yes, them. Well now, even the Russian media felt they couldn’t keep referring to them as ‘lightly-armed pro-Russian Crimean militia so they started referring to them as ‘LGMs’. That’s right, it’s a fact. They admitted they refer to the non-existent Russian troops by that three letter acronym and now some of the Ukrainian press refers to them the same way. And the initials stand for Little Green Men. I rest my case.