Monday, March 17, 2014

Crimean Referendum In Tow, Russia Still Possibly Stuck

The tough part about this referendum is that, under other circumstances, it might make sense.

It might even be the right thing for Crimea to be part of Russia rather than Ukraine, in some sort of idealized world.

That said, it probably also would "make sense" for lots of lines to be re-drawn to group together people that most want to be grouped together. But the process for doing that must be both delicate and consistent--lest the door be opened for the kind of mayhem that Russia is causing at this very moment.

So the reason it's tricky is that, with a population so excited about joining Russia, the West's liberal tendencies make them loathe to deny them that autonomy. But the circumstances under which it occurred force the West, even against some of its own values, to reject the referendum flat-out.

(Those of you paying attention will note that I owe you a beer: the referendum did not get 70-80% to join Russia, but got 93%--a whopping number that is so obviously padded that it's clear that Putin is more interested in showing off unwavering support/unity in the area than in having the legitimacy that comes with an election that is fully free and fair. The Tatars alone, if votes were counted freely and fairly, would have brought that number down.)

With Ukraine and NATO not recognizing the referendum, any violence by Russian troops to enforce the annexation (see my last post about the need to do so) will cross a hitherto-uncrossed line. It's one thing for Western leaders to stand by dumbfounded by a bloodless coup--it's another if the Russians start murdering Ukrainian troops in their bases.

There's actually more of a standoff than one might think. Russia is working very hard to create an air of inevitability, to declare "Mission Accomplished" loudly enough that everyone will start to believe them. But the government of Ukraine is fervently anti-Russian and the western part of the country is sufficiently terrified of more Russian domination that they're ready to fight.

I don't quite see how this is going to go down without bloodshed--Russia just isn't going to walk away, and it's likely the Ukrainians are getting some quiet promises of military support if (violently) attacked, particularly from the V4. Russian troops (about 60k, according to Kyiv) are amassing on the eastern border of Ukraine, which suggests Russia knows it's going to have to try to beat Ukraine into accepting the annexation.

The West is holding its breath, but it has the upper hand in a conflict as long as it has the will. A lot is at stake here--namely, the principle of Deterrence in Europe, which has hitherto been enforced since 1939 and has probably been the biggest reason Europe has seen relative peace in the last 70 years. 
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