It’s a busy day on the Ukraine front, but action appears to have given way to a confused mass of chatter. The West still struggled to come up with a unified response to Russian aggression in Crimea before it spreads to eastern Ukraine, while Vladimir Putin tried a few threats of his own to split his opposition. Ukraine’s new government offered up a concession to attempt to move Russia out of its country. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov today, attempting to, er, reset the crisis before it hits critical mass:
Kerry and Lavrov are expected to meet on the sidelines of a long-planned conference on Lebanon, which is likely to be overshadowed by ongoing tensions in Ukraine, according to the BBC.
The top diplomats from Russia, Ukraine, the U.S., Britain and France are not necessarily all at the same table, but French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said everyone has been working non-stop for a diplomatic solution over the crisis in Ukraine.
Not all at the same table, eh? Now there’s an analogy of the last couple of weeks in a nutshell. Lavrov warned ahead of the sideline klatch that Russia would not tolerate a “coup” in Ukraine, a point that they’ve made rather forcefully over the past week:
“If we indulge those who are trying to rule our great, kind historic neighbor, we must understand that a bad example is infectious,” Lavrov said.
In Washington, Congress is looking for a formula for sanctions that will push Russia out of the Crimea, but once again, the West is not at the same table:
Members of Congress are leaning on Europe to back meaningful sanctions on Russia, making personal phone calls to convince allies that the Kremlin should be punished for its incursion into Ukraine.
The members are worried about signs that Great Britain and Germany oppose deep sanctions, and say they won’t work without cross-Atlantic unity.ADVERTISEMENT
“The president is very right to keep the focus on Europe, because we cannot influence Moscow on our own,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told The Hill on Tuesday as he ran to make phone calls with German lawmakers.“It’s unfortunate the Europeans are not taking a stronger stand on this,” said Murphy, the chairman of a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Europe.
He said the countries of Eastern Europe will be watching closely, wondering who is next.
“If Russia gets away with this, in the same way they feel they got away with the Georgia incursion [in 2008], I don’t know why other countries that are former client states of Russia would feel that they’re safe,” he said.
Russia’s parliament has a message for Washington and Europe on sanctions, too:
Meanwhile, Russian lawmakers were working on a draft law to allow the confiscation of property, assets and accounts of European or U.S. companies if sanctions are imposed on Russia, RIA news agency said, according to Reuters.
This is what is inelegantly known as “crapping the bed,” and perhaps a measure of just how far Russia has gone in its imperialist orientation. Moscow had to spend billions of rubles to keep its currency afloat this week just with the hint of possible sanctions, and its MICEX stock market took a bath. If Russia returns to Soviet-era expropriation, they can forget about large-scale investment from the West for the near- and mid-term future, and the standard of living under Putin’s regime will plummet. That means less money for everything, including military adventures in eastern Europe and — more critically — domestic security in the Caucasus. Such a move will impoverish everyone, but Russia more than most, and gone are the days when Moscow could control media access to fool its subjects into thinking the West was worse. Normally one would consider this an empty threat, but the only rationality one can find in Russian policy at the moment is imperialist expansion, and that would fit reasonably well into that context.
Meanwhile, current Ukraine leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk wants to find a way to negotiate an end to the crisis. He’s willing to let Crimea operate more on its own if it means Russia backs off:
Ukraine’s new prime minister, in his first interview since taking office, told The Associated Press that Crimea must remain part of Ukraine, but may be granted more local powers.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk told the AP Wednesday that a special task force could be established “to consider what kind of additional autonomy the Crimean Republic could get.”
That could give Putin enough of a win to claim victory and depart the field. On the other hand, even if that works, it probably wouldn’t be long before Putin comes back and demands the same deal for eastern Ukraine, too. Not to carry the pre-WWII analogies too far, but this sounds a lot like what happened with the Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia in 1938. When a military power decides it needs lebensraum, it’s usually not satisfied with these kinds of concessions for long.