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

    Can EU Survive a Brexit?

    Across Europe politicians are asking if the British vote to leave the European Union will set in motion dynamics that will see other member states leave too

    Video Entrepreneurs at Global Summit Tackle Range of Challenges

    Innovators strive to halt sexual harassment in India, improve rural health in Myanmar, build businesses in Africa

    Key African Anti-Venom About to Permanently Run Out

    The tale of Fav-Afrique’s demise is a complicated one that reflects a deeper crisis brewing in global public health

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Britain’s Vote to Leave EU Sends Shockwaves Through Global Marketsi
    X
    June 24, 2016 10:43 AM
    Britain’s historic decision to leave the European Union is sending shockwaves through global markets. Markets from Tokyo to Europe tumbled Friday under the uncertainty the ballot brings, while regional leaders in Asia took steps to limit the possible fallout. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Britain’s Vote to Leave EU Sends Shockwaves Through Global Markets

    Britain’s historic decision to leave the European Union is sending shockwaves through global markets. Markets from Tokyo to Europe tumbled Friday under the uncertainty the ballot brings, while regional leaders in Asia took steps to limit the possible fallout. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.
    Video

    Video During Ramadan, Faith and Football Converge in Lebanon’s Megadome

    In Beirut, a group of young entrepreneurs has combined its Muslim faith and love of football to create the city's newest landmark: a large, Ramadan-ready dome primed for one of the biggest football (soccer) tournaments in the world. But as the faithful embrace the communal spirit of Islam’s holy month, it is not just those breaking their fasts that are welcome.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora