How can we explain Russian president Vladimir Putin’s hurried legalization of the annexation of Crimea to the Russian Federation, and why the West has been unable to stop Putin, whose actions are destroying the established world order? The Day asked a senior associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center Lilia SHEVTSOVA to comment on the current situation with annexation of the Crimea and the possible consequences of the Russian authorities’ actions.
“The desire to ‘complete the process’ that goes against every norm of international law is a quite natural one. The Kremlin is trying to present the world with a fait accompli and to exploit the situation while the West is still confused and lacks effective means to stop Russia. That is, they strike while the iron is hot. There is also the desire to exploit a high wave of revanchist patriotism in Russia itself as well as consolidation of pro-Russian elements among the Crimean population. Neither of them can continue indefinitely without permanent boosts... Therefore, the hurried legalization looks understandable.”
How can he do all that after the US and the EU announced sanctions against Russia for the first time?
“Announced sanctions by the US and the EU are for now mostly evidence of the West still warning the Kremlin that it can be really harmed. So far, the West has not dared to apply real sanctions that could seriously affect the interests of the Russian ruling class. It is a very soft warning, showing the West’s desire not to drive the Kremlin into the corner but give it an opportunity to retreat. However, these sanctions actually only strengthen the Kremlin’s confidence that they still have some room for maneuver, and the ‘red line’ is still some way off. So far, sanctions themselves instead of splitting the political class act as a mobilizing factor strengthening its consolidation.”
That is, neither Europe nor the US can stop Putin?
“It is hard to determine what can stop the Kremlin’s revanchism. All international actors are already in uncharted waters. It is important to understand that the Kremlin has begun to operate in the logic of bobsleigh and will find it very hard to jump out of the track without losing face in front of its audience, which doubles as its electoral base.”
What is your take on Laurent Fabius’s statement that France is ready to cancel the contract for the supply of Mistral-class ships to Russia and William Hague’s statement that Europe is preparing to decrease its energy dependence on Russia? Could this influence Putin or we need more serious, “crippling” sanctions, as it was in the case of Iran, which then came to the negotiating table with the West?
“All these statements are still compatible with the rhetoric of warnings. Even if they intend to implement them, this process will take time. Moreover, it is unclear whether the West is ready to accept the new status quo or if it urges Russia to refrain from new expansion... Lack of coordination between US and EU sanctions together with discord between the Americans and the Germans suggest that the Kremlin may have room for maneuver within its revanchist logic.”
While in Kyiv, Senator John McCain expressed confidence that economic sanctions will bring results and will force Russia to abandon its plans to invade Ukraine or annex the country’s eastern provinces. What would you say about that, and the possible role of America in restraining Putin?
“McCain is not yet the person to look for when trying to discern the White House’s stance. Still, Barack Obama has been forced to move out of his lethargy and the US is now more active than the EU. I think that Obama understands that if Russia dares to tear away or even just destabilize south-eastern Ukraine, it will be the main legacy of his presidency. He is hardly willing to let it be this way. However, it is too early to talk about how far the US is ready to go when escalating its sanctions.”
What, in your opinion, Ukraine can and should do in this situation to preserve its territorial integrity?
“I would refrain from giving any advice to Ukraine and its government. The territorial integrity of any country is determined by consolidation of society around national interests and ability of its government to express these interests.”