News / Europe

Analysis: With Crimean Appeal, Putin Goes Head-to-Head with West over Ukraine

President Vladimir Putin answers journalists' questions on current situation in Ukraine at the Novo-Ogaryovo presidential residence outside Moscow, March 4, 2014.
President Vladimir Putin answers journalists' questions on current situation in Ukraine at the Novo-Ogaryovo presidential residence outside Moscow, March 4, 2014.
Reuters
Almost certainly orchestrated by Vladimir Putin, Crimea's appeal to join Russia pits the president directly against the West in a standoff that has increasingly high stakes and unpredictable consequences.
 
The vote by Crimea's parliament gives Putin the upper hand in the crisis over Ukraine, but risks antagonizing pro-Western leaders in Kiev who have refused to resort to military action or fan tensions in Ukraine's Russian-speaking south and east.
 
“We are at a very dangerous point, and it threatens to push a political crisis in the direction of a military situation,” said former Kremlin spin doctor Gleb Pavlovsky.
 
Ukraine's leaders had no doubt who was behind the latest moves in Crimea, including a call for a referendum to decide if the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula, which has an ethnic Russian majority, should return to its former Soviet master.
 
“It is not a referendum, it is a farce, a fake and a crime against the state which is organized by the Russian Federation's military,” Ukraine's acting president, Oleksander Turchinov, said in the country's capital Kiev.
 
Putin has in effect thrown back in Western diplomats' faces their argument that the ouster of Moscow-backed Viktor Yanukovich as Ukraine's president on Feb. 22 must be accepted because his removal was the will of the people.
 
Now they will have to accept the will of the Crimean people.
 
Former KGB spy Putin looked serene as he chaired a meeting of his most senior officials in the Security Council on Thursday, seemingly oblivious to turmoil on Russian markets and Kiev's insistence that a referendum on Crimea's status would be illegal.
 
The 61-year-old appears to feel he holds all the cards.
 
After appealing for membership of the Russian Federation, Crimea's pro-Russian leaders, installed after Russian-speaking armed men took over the local parliament, said they would have to wait for Putin's answer to hold a referendum on status.
 
They plan to hold the referendum on March 16, asking Crimea's just over 2 million people whether they want to unite with Russia or stay with Ukraine.
 
Careful Choreography
 
Moscow's move to get a tighter grip on Crimea has been perfectly choreographed over the last few days.
 
Calls to help Russian-speaking citizens in Ukraine's southeast defend themselves against “extremists” from western Ukraine, accused of trying to rid the country of Russians, have given way to draft laws speeding up citizenship requests from native Russian speakers.
 
Twinned with legislation to simplify the procedure for “parts of foreign states” to join the Russian Federation, this leaves Moscow better positioned to take control of a strip of land Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev handed to Kiev in 1954.
 
“Now Putin is trying to assure that the situation remains under control, that someone has a grip on the situation there. But it is a very complicated situation - because from his point of view, whether he sends troops or does not send troops now - each decision will be seen by one group or another as a bad one,” a Russian security source said.
 
“No, he does not want a war. He is perfectly well aware of all the problems and all the repercussions of such a decision. But if the situation gets worse and worse - where else to go? Use of military force will be considered only and if all else fails, but it is an option that is on the table.”
 
Risky Strategy
 
Many Russian analysts doubt that Putin wants to annex Crimea, though Russia's Black Sea Fleet has a base there.
 
But they say he may consider the threat of doing so a “symmetrical response” to what he sees as Western support for armed men he says have been directing events in Kiev.
 
It asserts his authority once more and keeps alive his dream of creating an economic union to reunite at least part of the Soviet Union and recoup what Putin calls the lost potential of the region when the Soviet empire collapsed 20 years ago.
 
With only Kazakhstan and Belarus signed up so far for a Russia-led customs union, the loss of Ukraine could kill the idea. But it is a risky strategy.
 
Washington responded by saying it would slap visa bans on both Russian and Ukrainian officials responsible for undermining democratic institutions in Ukraine. The Pentagon also announced a large-scale air force exercise in Poland, which Washington's ambassador to Warsaw said had been augmented to reassure U.S. allies in the region in the light of the Ukraine crisis.
 
Russia's markets tumbled, putting pressure on a fragile economy where rouble weakness has made many Russians feel the pinch when buying imported food and clothes. Moody's said the stand-off was negative for Russia's sovereign creditworthiness.
 
The gap in understanding between East and West over what happened in Ukraine is, if anything, getting wider.
 
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov left talks with foreign ministers from the United States, France, Germany and Britain on Wednesday, saying their attempts to get institutions like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the NATO military alliance involved were not building trust.

You May Like

UN Watchdog Urges Israel to Probe Possible Gaza War Crimes

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in a 51-day war in Gaza, along with 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel More

New Kenyan 'Thin SIMs' Poised to Transform African Mobile Money

Equity's new technology is approved in African nation for one-year trial, though industry leader Safaricom says thin SIMs could lead to data theft and fraud More

Solar's Future Looks Brighter

New technology and dropping prices are contributing to a surge in solar power More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid