Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and into Russia today after Crimeans voted in numbers henceforth not seen in the civilized world to leave Ukraine and be rejoined with the “Motherland.” The numbers from the vote on the 16th are staggering. A reported 95.5% of Crimeans voted to be annexed with a total voter turnout of 83%, frankly, impossibly high for a fair vote. The move elicited strong responses from Western leaders.
Here’s What The Big Four Said
U.S. President Barack Obama reportedly told Vladimir Putin over the phone that the US and the world community would “never accept” the referendum. And he went further:
We are prepared to impose further costs on Russia for its violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity.
British Prime Minister David Cameron stated that “the steps taken by President Putin today to attempt to annex Crimea to Russia are in flagrant breach of international law and send a chilling message across the continent of Europe.”
French President Francois Hollande previously described the referrendum for annexation of Crimea as “unacceptable” and stated that Russia had “no legal right” to annex any portion of a sovereign nation.
German President Angela Merkel perhaps went the furthest though.
Mrs Merkel told MPs from the Christian Democratic Union:
“What has happened in Crimea is an annexation which Russia must not be allowed to get away with.”
She warned that sanctions on Russia were justified even if they damaged the German economy, according to Der Spiegel. The two countries have close economic ties, with bilateral trade exceeding £63 billion last year. Germany now ranks as Russia’s third-biggest trading partner.
But Mrs Merkel said that a “certain amount of toughness” was required and “all European Union countries from Lisbon to Riga” should “stick together” to defend “European values”.
What was Vladimir Putin doing during all this? Announcing that Crimea was now a part of Russia again and why the people’s tossing of former President Yanukovych was illegal.
What Will The West Do?
Sanctions, sanctions, and more sanctions. The U.S. and EU have sanctioned a total of 21 Russian and Ukrainian officials meaning that they won’t be able to travel to either the U.S. or Europe and they’ve also frozen whatever assets these individuals might have in the West. What was Russia’s response to this? The Russian Deputy Prime Minister, who is on the sanctions list, found it funny.
He’s still finding it funny today.
What’s more, according to the State Department, it’s apparently unclear whether or not any of those placed on the sanctions list actually have any assets in the West to freeze.
In response, Russia apparently plans to sanction a bunch of US Congressmen which elicited this response from John McCain who fully expects to be among the sanctioned.
“You think I’m not going to be on it?” McCain said. “I would be honored to be on that list.”
McCain said he would not be impacted financially by being subject to a visa ban and asset freeze in the Russian Federation.
“I guess I’m going to have to try to withdraw my money from my secret account in St. Petersburg,” he joked.
That Seems Pretty Tame. Is This Going To Escalate?
It really does and it really could although it’s generally agreed that the only kind of sanctions that would really hurt Russia would be those that affect their oil and gas exports. Any boycott of Russian oil and gas by Europe and the U.S. would be devastating to Russia’s economy. However, Europe gets most of their oil and gas from Russia and so they’d be cutting off their own supply. But, if Europe and the U.S. went forward with this then it could get very messy very quickly and that’s why it won’t happen. Europe’s still coming out of a recession just like the U.S. They need that oil and gas.
However much Europe might like to express its displeasure by targeting a major part of Russia’s economy, it confronts one inescapable fact: It needs Russia’s natural gas and oil.
Europe’s dependency has concerned both theEuropean Union and the United States for decades, but the current political crisis in Ukraine has driven home the urgent need for Europe to move more aggressively to diversify its energy sources – particularly its natural gas – thus allowing Brussels to be more economically secure, not to mention more geopolitically nimble in challenging Moscow.
What’s more concerning is that today a Ukrainian soldier was shot repeatedly and killed in Crimea while another was wounded. The reportedly took place at the hands of Russian soldiers. Ukrainian soldiers continue to stand their ground at Ukrainian bases in Crimea. That is a powder keg.
Why Is Russia Doing This?
Short answer? Pride. Long answer? Reasserting national identity after roughly two decades of being an economically floundering former superpower. Many Russians view Ukraine as being part of Russia and they definitely view Crimea as being part of Russia so if they can’t have Ukraine then they’ll take Crimea. Christopher Dickey’s excellent article ‘Why Putin Did It’ over at the Daily Beast spells it out wonderfully clearly and I plead with you to read it when you have time. Russia does have reasons for doing what they’re doing whether they’re tolerable or not and we ignore them at our own peril.
With all the saber rattling occurring right now let’s hope that clearer heads prevail and that a third way comes to the fore that saves face for Russia while securing the safety of the people of Ukraine. After all, that’s what this is all supposed to be about.
If you’re interested in hearing the entirety of Putin’s rationalization for annexing Crimea then the below video of him being interviewed by a room full of reporters on March 4th will give you lots of information.
Bonus History, Crimea was a slave trading port for the Ottoman Empire until the late 18th Century when Russia invaded. The Tatars, a current ethnic minority in Crimea. Prior to Russia’s takeover of Crimea, the Tatars had sold about 2 million Russian and Ukrainian slaves to the broader Ottoman Empire over about 200 years. Both the Russians and Ukrainians in the region at that time were all ethnic “Slavs.” The word Slav when it came into use literally meant slave although it’s ultimate origin is disputed. As recent as 1769, a Tatar raid saw the capture of 20,000 Slavs that were sold into slavery.
Double Bonus, the Crimean War was begun when Russia and the Ottomans went to war in 1853 over the right of Russia to protect Orthodox Christians. Sounding familiar?