There is possibly an even more direct connection between Ukraine and Syria. Putin’s call reached Obama in Saudi Arabia, where it is likely Obama was reaching agreements to arm Syrian rebels. With the tide turning against Assad, Putin may have decided it was time to cash in his Syrian chips in exchange for his new conquest of Crimea. Putin would get what he wants in exchange for something he’s likely to lose anyway and Obama could claim a success by going along. It’s a cynical theory, but it fits the profile of both men. Putin, taking what he can get without opposition, then bluffing with greater threats against eastern Ukraine and Transnistria. Obama, eager to avoid any confrontation and happy to find a way to put a positive spin on his inaction.
But even if what Obama really cares about is unclear, Putin is not as hard to read. He will always push and prod and take as much as he can grab with little or no resistance. He will continue to use every old KGB trick to destabilize Ukraine politically and economically. The Kremlin will continue to support extremist groups and provocateurs of every stripe in Ukraine in order to stir up doubt and strife among the people and the new government. If Putin cannot have Ukraine, he will ruin it. The Russian proposal of greater federalism in Ukraine has a similar agenda, to split the country into smaller, easier to digest pieces. It is a crude plan, but it is also a historically effective one. Against a fragile state with a weakened economy it may well succeed if the West does not come to Ukraine’s aid without hesitation and force Putin to back off.