Options on Ukraine

March 03, 2014 - 3:41:13 am
Ukraine is mobilising for war and European leaders and Washington yesterday issued stern warnings to Russian President Vladimir Putin not to cross his limits. What started off in Ukraine as a revolution for a just cause and against a corrupt government has snowballed into a slugfest between Russia and the West. If Putin refuses to back off from his belligerent stance, chances are that this crisis will further jeopardize the already strained ties between him and US President Barack Obama.

Washington has threatened to isolate Russia economically after Putin declared he had the right to invade his neighbour in Moscow’s biggest confrontation with the West since the Cold War. Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said that what Putin has made is not a threat, but actually a declaration of war to his country. Yatsenuik heads a pro-Western government that took power when the country’s Russia-backed president, Viktor Yanukovich, was ousted last week. Putin secured permission from his parliament on Saturday to use military force to protect Russian citizens in Ukraine and told US President Barack Obama he had the right to defend Russian interests and nationals, spurning Western pleas not to intervene. Russian forces have already bloodlessly seized Crimea, an isolated Black Sea peninsula where Moscow has a naval base. On Sunday they surrounded several small Ukrainian military outposts there and demanded the Ukrainian troops disarm. Some refused, leading to standoffs, although no shots were fired.

Though both Putin and his EU-US rivals are likely to ratchet up pressure on each other, it’s not clear what action the latter can take. President Obama made an unscheduled appearance before the press at the White House on Friday to warn Russia against a military intervention in Ukraine, but the president made no mention of consequences other than international “condemnation” and unspecified “costs” — and Russian President Vladimir Putin is unlikely to be deterred by that.

Putin is known for having his way when he wants. Not bound by the demands of democracy and international laws unlike other world leaders, he will use every option to keep Ukraine under him. As Obama noted, what he is doing is a blatant violation of Russia’s commitments, including the 1994 Budapest memorandum, in which Moscow pledged to the United States and Britain that it would respect Ukraine’s independence and borders in exchange for the removal of its nuclear weapons. It could create another chronic trouble spot in Europe — particularly as Crimea’s population includes a large minority of Ukrainian speakers as well as Crimean Tatars, a Muslim group that rejects Russian rule. 

Putin must be forced to respect international laws. If the US and EU stand united, he will have to respect laws.