So Russia went there. Either you can call it crossing the Rubicon or coming the the boundary between clever-leader-playing-aggressivly and aggressive-leader-overplaying. And Putin took a huge leap across. Crimea and Sevastopol was annexed and to be incorporated in the Russian Federation. Right upside down, this means a few things, and the first two of them I addressed in yesterday’s post.
1) The long-term worsening of the already very fragile Russian economy running net losses and that is failing to modernise to a knowledge-based economy.
2) The loosening of the fabric that bind different ethnic groups together in the ethnic melting pot that the Russian Federation and the former Soviet Union are.
3) An weakening of the principles of international and regional order. The use of military force in Europe were for a decade seen as impossible, but as Lawry Freedman wrote pointedly in 1998.
As soon as one side acts as if military force lacks utility, it will give utility to the other side.
It was clear earlier that the notions of universal values was not shared by upcoming countries, Russia and China, most notably, but this should be the nail in the coffin for excessive hope placed in international law in curbing power politics.
In the former Soviet Union, this will cause a lot of concern, especially from countries with Russian minorities and countries that are trying to resist the Russian Customs Union. And this is a place where the West is not even remotely closed to getting engaged in.
4) A new cold war. In President Putin’s speech, he gave the whole history of Russian grievances against the West and it becomes clearer that this is the way he views the world. The Western-Russian relations were already closing all-time low before the Ukrainian crisis after the Russian 2011-2012 elections where unrest was met with bans on organisations with foreign funding, the Magnitskiy-list was met by a ban on orphans being adopted in the US.
For the credibility of the West, this was (should be) the limit of what could be accepted without a response that is felt (yes I exclude sanctions of a few ideologues). The outright annexation needs to responded against strongly for the principles of international order and for the principle of non-use of military force.
That would include sanctions againts those who actually matters, but also communication with military moves, such as NATO-exercises in Bulgaria and Romania. And no, that is not escalation, it is about maintaining credibility for the whole of the Alliance and it would be seen as provocative unless an annexation was underway.
If this result in a full scale Cold War is yet to be seen, but actions and counter actions do have the potential to set that in motion. A recast of Russia’s relations with the world might be the proper term.
On a potentially positive note, this crisis could potentially transform the current identity crisis of NATO and/or putting some life into the dying project of European common defence policy and/or finally providing some unity for European foreign policy. I say potential since I know that defence policy is, less than much else, driven by logics.
However, by ways of rumour, Merkel has said that if Russia went on and annexed Crimea, she wouldnt get in the way for any sanctions. So this should be the time for a robust Western response that changes the message from “we dont like it but it is OK” to “this is completely not OK”. This would not be bad.