Ukraine Tinderbox: How should the international community react to Russia´s military moves in Crimea and what are the options for Russia and the EU if the announced referendum finds a majority voting for secession?

(Photo: E. Arrott/Voice of America)

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  1. Theodoros Tsakiris 5 years ago

    The announced referendum will get a positive reply from Crimea's predominantly Russian population if the amalgamation of ultra-nationalist forces who have taken the power in Kiev continue with their divisive agenda.
    If a more moderate government takes power in Kiev that allows the central government to return to its balancing role between the two nationalist extremes of Easten and Western Ukraine, the referendum will probably be called off. Otherwise Russia is very likely to repeat Abkhazia's formula in the Crimea and neither the EU nor the US will be able to do much about it from a military point of view.

    In any case the EU must not identify itself with the Maidan extremists that include some especially pernicious elements so as to signal to Russia, Crimea and the Eastern Ukrainian provinces that it has taken sides.
    Europe also needs to clarify to the Ukrainian people exactly what it is able to deliver and what it promises to do so as to avoid misperceptions and miscommunications that can be used by the extremists to promise the populance an easy way into Europe which is simply not in the offing...

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  2. Andrey Makarychev 5 years ago

    Referendum can't legitimize the occupation that Russia has started. Recognition of referendum in these conditions would be tantamount to the acceptance of aggression. This is particularly a matter of principle for the UK and the US as co-signatories of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum and guarantors of Ukraine's sovereignty. The Kremlin has made his deplorable choice that will drastically complicate its relations with the EU and NATO (including Turkey) and ultimately foster a crisis of the current regime. As far as the EU is concerned, not a single member state is ready to wage a war with Russia for Ukraine. EU reactions could be twofold: all possible assistance - including military - to the government in Kiev, and restrictive measures towards Russia - no visa facilitation, no G8 summit in Sochi, etc.

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  3. Dmitri Mitin 5 years ago

    Let’s not forget another principal participant in the current confrontation – the national legislature and provisional government in Kiev. In the lead-up to the referendum, it is imperative for the new Ukrainian authorities not to get drawn into an exchange of coercive threats and to avoid passing the measures viewed as disadvantageous to the Russian-speaking population. Brinkmanship, while a likely default in such crisis conditions, will only exacerbate and solidify the sectarian divisions. A preemptive offer of broad autonomy to Crimea and openness to other decentralizing compromises are the key to reducing the costs of preserving territorial integrity of Ukraine. The lesson of post-Soviet devolution in Russia is instructive here. Yeltsin’s invitation for the regions to take up as much sovereignty as they could handle combined with a variety of ad hoc asymmetric concessions was, arguably, a sound response of the weak center to the intensifying centrifugal tendencies.
    Of course, the analogy with Yeltsin’s decentralized federalism should not be overdrawn, as Crimea’s secessionist bid is supported by an outside actor with a yet unclear agenda. Highly confrontational opening moves have left Putin without good options for winding down the crisis: the actual application of military force or de facto occupation of Crimea will have disastrous consequences, while disengagement after such a raucous gambit will ruin Russia’s reputation amongst local supporters. Encouraging a settlement between the Crimean separatists and Kiev appears a promising approach towards Russia’s exit strategy, assuming this outcome is in line with whatever goals the Kremlin pursues.
    As to the EU, it, too, should seek ways of fostering a negotiated agreement with the conflicting regions. The European Union has to encourage a conversation between Kiev and Crimea and position itself as a guarantor of any settlement.

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  4. Dorothea Schäfer 5 years ago

    The international community should try to convince Russia to retreat from Crimea. If the people of Crimea vote for secesssion, then the international community should try to convince the Ukrainian government that Crimea should get a particular status within the Ukrainian state giving them more independence from the central government. But it does not make much sense to have a new completely independend own state of Crimea. However, first of all, the international community needs to make clear, that Ukrainian people have to organize an election of their president as soon as possible in order to get a legitimate democratically elected head of state, and likewise the members of the parliament have to be elected rather quickly. This is essential because democratic legitimy of the Ukrainian government is an important argument against Russian claims that they protect only their fellow Russians in Ukraine.

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  5. Dimitrios Triantaphyllou 5 years ago

    The international community has failed to act to date because it does not know what to do. In fact, there is no consensus of how to describe the Russian operation. Is it an invasion? An occupation? An armed action? A hostile act?

    The fear of an accidental war is so great (i.e. with one side blinking and shooting first) that the policy options of the UN, US, NATO, the EU and its member states are limited. The question of legality and legitimacy of the current puppet regime in Crimea needs to be questioned immediately. Russia’s pretext for its presence in Crimea is the lack of legitimacy of the interim government and institutions in Ukraine. While Kiev’s government acquires legitimacy from within through public support and outside from the statements and visits of foreign leaders, Russia refuses to legitimize it.

    It is incumbent on legal experts to clarify the succession in Kiev and the acts and decisions of its parliaments to offset Russian claims. One of the demands from Moscow has been for a return to the 21 February agreement signed by the former President Yanukovich and the foreign ministers of Germany, Poland and France. The Russian action nullifies this otherwise constructive approach.

    The international community, in particular the other four permanent members of the Security Council, need to make a clear joint statement condemning the Russian action. The only other options are economic measures that the US and the EU might be able to adopt including visa restrictions, back asset freezes on suspected money laundering schemes by wealthy Russians and a general isolation of Russia via economic pressures.

    It is too early to assume that a referendum will even take place. But if so, there is the probability of bloodshed and widespread armed conflict. Under those conditions, the international community’s options would be considerably widened to include the possibility of an armed intervention against a nuclear Russia.

    In conclusion, it is too early to consider the options for Russia and the EU should the referendum take place because the conditions would have changed.

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  6. Alexei Voskressenski 5 years ago

    (...) There is an urgent time to discuss how to return Ukraine to the path of peaceful development. Politicians must not behave like showmen because their own electorate will ask them sooner or later about any irresponsible behavior – including the Russian electorate that should not be underestimated. Russian leadership gave a sign of what they intend to do if the Ukrainian nationalism will be bloody and unconstructive. The EU and the US should make a sign that they do not support any bloody unconstructive nationalism or radicalism not only in Russia as some of the EU countries did already but as well in Ukraine.

    Read the full article here:

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  7. Theodoros Tsakiris 5 years ago

    The indirect deployment of Russia’s military forces in the Crimean peninsular, although ostensibly covered under the guise of Crimean militia - constitutes the single most important provocation to the post-Cold War security architecture established over the last 20 years. What is more problematic though about this provocation is that it constitutes a direct response to perceived US efforts to repeat the Orange Revolution of 2004.
    Although there is no objective proof of US involvement in the preparation of the events leading to this second pro-Western Ukrainian revolution, it is clear that the dramatic pace of developments appears to have misled some key US officials into believing the following three self-fulfilling prophecies...

    Read the full article here:

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  8. Klaus Segbers 5 years ago

    1 The factual annexation of the Crimea by Russian troops and Russia-oriented militias is unacceptable. There cannot be business as usual with the Russian leadership for the time being.

    2 The new and inexperienced Ukrainian government has to mature quickly. The forces of the Euro-Maidan were (understandably, but regrettably) not inclusive enough.

    3 Western countries and organizations have to come carefully, but quickly, to terms with what their goals and options are.

    4 To preserve the continuity of Crimea as an integral part of Ukraine has to be defined as the main goal.

    5 This should lead to defining a red line, and to mean it: No Russian troops in Eastern Ukraine.

    6 When the current context won’t change for the better, clear signals must be sent to Russia.

    7 These steps have to be embedded into continuous appeals to use existing vehicles for negotiations or establishing new ones, a double strategy between sanctions and incentives.

    8 The current Russian leadership, particularly president Vladimir Putin, is not much interested in its image in Western countries.

    9 Part of the problem of Russian leaders’ ignorance re. their image in “the West” is that Western media notoriously misreport and stereotype developments in Russia. The link between Sochi (and certainly Syria) and Crimea may be closer than assumed so far.

    10 Right now, there is hardly a reasonable forum for dialogue left between Russian and Western politicians and social activists.

    11 Russian elites, at the same time, are too often inward-looking re. what a globalized world really means. Their thinking is often framed in geopolitical or Eurasian concepts, completely inept to grasp what is happening in the 21st Century.

    12 The EU has to come to terms with its heterogeneous voices and domestic limitations. At the same time, the EU has to prepare – together with the IMF – short-term measures to prevent a financial collapse of the Ukrainian economy.

    13 Germany is especially the focus of attention – not only for geographic reasons, or because of some strategic partnership with the Russian Federation. But because the relatively good state of the German economy, its role during the Euro crisis, and a recent awakening of German leaders to accept more responsibilities has to be backed up now.

    14 There are still joint interests between Western countries and Russia. Separatism is a malaise spreading all over the world.

    15 Chinese leaders will carefully watch how the West – and particularly the EU – will react to Russia’s aggression.

    16 So it is not yet predetermined that European spaces – and areas beyond – will be divided by a Yalta 2 arrangement.

    Read the full article at

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  9. Noah Toly 5 years ago

    While Russia's aggression must not go unchecked by the EU and the U.S., it is clear that there are very few options available to meaningfully limit the power of the Putin regime. The most sensible option would be a package of "smart sanctions" directed against Putin's wealthiest supporters in the Russian oligarchy (as well as Yanukovych). The EU and the U.S. should freeze, and perhaps even seize, the assets of the 20-30 Russians who hold the most influence in the Putin regime, including those members of the legislature who authorized the use of force in Crimea. This may just begin to expose cracks in the Putin regime, if the oligarchy presses for the withdrawal of forces--cracks Putin may need to repair by finding alternatives to his current hard line position.

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1 Comment

  1. Johannes 5 years ago

    It's interesting to read all your opinions. I feel like I need to study the historical dimension of why parts of the Ukraine matter so much to Russia before establishing a position. Just two facts are clear to me: First, Putin is probably the last living proof for the so called Great Man Theory by single handedly occupying parts of the neighborhood while the so called "West" is as unorganized as ever with the many tongued EU and the declining Obama-USA. Second, I have to very much agree with Professor Makarychev - no one in Europe will go to war with Russia over Ukraine and the the sooner the pro-Western Ukrainians understand it, the better (Russia already internalized this fact as we can see).

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