Is the Russian seizure of Crimea a fait accompli? Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates tells Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace that Crimea will not escape Russia’s grip, now that Moscow has it back:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14TeOIv1-HY

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates predicted Sunday that Russia will take control of the Crimea region of Ukraine during its political upheaval and suggested that section of the country is lost to Kiev and the Western world.

“You think Crimea’s gone?” “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace asked.

“I do,” Gates replied. “I do not believe that Crimea will slip out of Russia’s hand.”

What would stop them from annexing the peninsula? After all, the new local Moscow-dependent Crimean government will hold a plebescite in a few days in which the electorate will be asked to choose between immediate annexation and delayed annexation, with independence or remaining a Ukrainian province apparently not among the choices. The clear point of Russian intervention was to seize Crimea and secure their Black Sea bases of operation, and the historical claim of Russia on Crimea is significant even beyond the military bases.

It’s not as if the West has prepared itself to be a bulwark against a new era of Russian imperialism. We’ve backed down in Syria, Iran, and on missile defense of Europe and the US under pressure from Vladimir Putin, the latter of which Dick Cheney wants reversed. Gates himself in the same interview argued that defense cuts in the face of these threats send a clear signal of weakness and retreat, and in this interview bemoaned the fecklessness of drawing red lines and then ignoring them.

No one wants to go to war over Crimea, but it shouldn’t have gotten that far in the first place. Sending signals of weakness only tempts those who want to wield power in the absence of strength elsewhere.   But should we care about Crimea and a Russian takeover of a province that had been Russian for almost 230 years? Bloomberg’s Marc Champion argues that we should, in part because of what Russians have done to those who were Crimean before Russian control in the 18th century:

The Muslim Tatars have suffered repeated persecutions since the Ottomans ceded their peninsula to the Russian Empire, including an attempted genocide under Stalin. In 1944, the entire population was deported to central Asia and Siberia, and as many as half were killed.

There were no gas chambers or Bergen-Belsens, but the best way to understand the fears of the Tatars is to imagine them as if they were Eastern European Jews, under sudden threat of reoccupation by a Germany that had yet to recognize its collective responsibility for the Holocaust.

If that sounds like a stretch, maybe it is. But consider that in recent days thugs have daubed black Xs on some Tatar homes in Crimea, according to news reports, in a grim reminder of the way they were identified for the 1944 deportation. …

Few groups in the region need the protections and rights that Ukraine’s gradual integration with the European Union would bring more than Crimea’s Tatars. With the arrival of masked Russian gunmen, the closure of dissenting television stations and news media outlets, and the announcement of a preordained referendum on joining Russia, that prospect is fast slipping away. Berber’s elderly wife collapsed from shock when the referendum was announced, and she remains in the hospital. Young Tatar men have begun forming neighborhood watches, in their own version of a self-defense force. There is little, however, that they can do.

That’s certainly worth considering before we simply write off Crimea.

Update: In the worst name-switch evah, I wrote “Chris Matthews” when I meant Chris Wallace. I’ve fixed it … and upped my caffeine intake accordingly. Thanks to Resist We Much in the comments for the correction.