Crimea has voted; difficult and clever negotiations with Russia are called for.
As expected the Crimean vote went overwhelmingly for joining Russia. Russia has recognized the independence of Crimea, but as of this writing, it hasn’t yet absorbed it into The Russian Federation. The recognition of the separation of Crimea from the Ukraine would seem to point towards Russia, indeed, annexing Crimea. The fear now is a Russian move into the heavily ethnic Russian Eastern Ukraine. Perhaps they will try and negotiate taking Crimea for not moving into Ukraine. But very hawkish voices are being heard inside Russia.
Meanwhile on Crimea we are on the other side of self-determinationism. Clearly Crimea never became fully integrated into The Ukraine. And just as clearly they want to join the Russian Federation. This raises the old issue of Separatism vs Nationalism. If the vote certifies Crimea’s independent state status, then how can Russia, in good conscience, keep arguing that Chechen should not be allowed to secede from Russia? If self-determination was the ruling criterion then a goodly part of Indonesia would separate. We fought a horrific war to keep the South from seceding. There is hypocrisy on all sides in this issue. Power seems to dominate, and that leads us to examine the alternatives that both we and Russia have at this juncture.
There are any number of sanctions that we and our European allies can impose. But if we want to have leverage to prevent a Russian incursion into Eastern Ukraine, we still have to keep the most significant of those in reserve. Besides, the European and Emerging Countries’ economies are fragile and no one wants to cut off their nose to spite their face. The U.S. economy is a little stronger, but it still could be hurt by Russian retaliatory sanctions of their own; hits on European or Emergent economies would affect our exports, and our economy would take a hit as well.
All signs are that Russia will absorb Crimea. But a wise Russia might negotiate treaties with Crimea that would give Russia many of the gains possible with absorption without actually bringing it into the Russian Federation, thereby possibly avoiding the worse of the sanctions. It’s hard to project wisdom on Russia given the hawkish climate there right now. To a lesser extent, they can negotiate assurances on Eastern Ukraine. Putin’s popularity has soared during the Crimean crisis so it may be difficult for him to turn away now. But the Russian economy is even more fragile than those of Western Europe, and they have a big stake in avoiding the most crippling of the sanctions. Don’t sell short the interests and influence of the oligarchs in both the Ukraine and in Russia. One also shouldn’t overemphasize the power of the super nationalist hawks in Russia. Putin, first and foremost, is a pragmatic politician. Hence, given a bad situation, if we are to make the most of it, we must give him face-saving paths to avoid economic disaster or enable the extremists in Russia. Wise and cool-headed diplomacy is called for on both sides. It is also important not to overreact to political statements from Russia meant for domestic consumption. I frankly doubt Putin would risk the economy by moving militarily on Eastern Ukraine.
Thus far it appears that President Obama and the State Department are moving cautiously. The sanctions so far imposed may be too timid, but it is also necessary to communicate to Russia more costly sanctions that will be imposed if they move towards the Eastern Ukraine. Naturally such negotiations will be multilateral, involving our European allies, At this time full disclosure of the most burdensome of the sanctions should not be made public, in a way that would cause Putin to lose face with his domestic hawks. Stir the nationalist pot and super nationalism, an ugly phenomenon, is likely to be given an enhanced voice.