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

As US Strikes Syria, China Sees Parallels at Home

Beijing is debating how much support to give international coalition against IS militants and trying to figure out how many Chinese nationals may have joined group overseas More

CDC: Ebola Could Infect 1.4 M by 2015

US health officials say if efforts to curb the outbreak are not increased, cases will soar dramatically by early next year More

Video USAID Provides $231 Million for Girls Education in 5 Countries

US Agency for International Development partners with celebrities to call attention to importance of education for girls worldwide More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbiti
X
September 22, 2014 9:20 PM
NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbit

NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv prides itself on being both physically and culturally close to Western Europe. The Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country are 1,200 kilometers away, and seemingly even farther away in their world view. Still, as VOA’s Al Pessin reports, the war is having an impact in Lviv.
Video

Video Saving Global Fish Stocks Starts in the Kitchen

With an estimated 90 percent of the world’s larger fish populations having already vanished, a growing number of people in the seafood industry are embracing the concept of sustainable fishing and farming practices. One American marine biologist turned restaurateur in Thailand is spreading the word among fellow chefs and customers. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Chinese Admiral Key in China’s Promotion of Sea Links

China’s President last week wrapped up landmark visits to India, Sri Lanka and Maldives, part of a broader campaign to promote a new “Maritime Silk Road” in Asia. The Chinese government’s promotion efforts rely heavily on the country’s best-known sailor, a 15th century eunuch named Zheng He. VOA's Bill Ide reports from the sailor’s hometown in Yunnan on the effort to promote China’s future by recalling its past.
Video

Video Experts Fear Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid