Monday, February 8, 2016

James J. Coyle: Russia's fait accompli referendum in Crimea

Published in the Orange County Register on March 24, 2014. To access the original article, click here.

The 1994 Budapest Treaty guarantees the territorial integrity of Ukraine. The signatories, who are bound to implement that treaty, include Russia, Ukraine, the United States, France, Great Britain and China. While Russia dismembers Ukraine, there is little the other signatories are doing about it.

President Barack Obama promised “consequences” if Russia seized the Ukraine. Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. would have no choice except to “isolate Russia, politically, diplomatically and economically.” This isolation consists of sanctions against a bank, as well as a handful of Russian and Ukrainian ‘cronies’ of Vladimir Putin. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin posted his contempt: “Comrade Obama, what should those who have neither accounts nor property abroad [do]? Or [you] didn’t think about it?”

The NATO alliance is taking stronger measures, deploying Airborne Warning and Control Systems and fighter aircraft to Poland and Romania. They also have promised to send trainers to the newly formed Ukrainian army and national guard. Ukraine is not a member of NATO, however, and the NATO powers have little appetite to challenge the Russian nuclear superpower over a country that is not an alliance member. The organization is as hamstrung as Russia was in the 1990s as NATO expanded to the Russian border against Kremlin wishes.
The EU has issued its own sanctions, as weak as the American ones. The EU’s hands are tied by their need for Russian oil and natural gas. Should Russia be angered enough to cut the energy flows, as they did in 2006 and 2009, Europe has few alternative energy sources in the immediate future.

The strongest economic power in the EU, Germany, is also the country with the closest ties to the Kremlin. The German publication Der Spiegel pointed out an economic war with Russia could cost the German economy 300,000 jobs. German-Russian trade in 2013 was almost $107 billion and the 6,000 German companies registered in Russia have foreign direct investment in that country of $27 billion.

Western powers are considering boycotting the upcoming meeting of the G-8 in Sochi, in favor of a London meeting of the G-7 (no Russia). In reality, however, Russia never belonged in the same gathering as the G-7, which consists of the major industrial powers in the world. Russia is not an industrial power, but a country whose economy is based on the export of raw materials.

The EU has also cancelled talks on the expansion of Russian pipelines in Europe. This cancellation is less than meets the eye: EU Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger admitted that while talks at the political level were cancelled, technical negotiations continue.

China has also traveled the long road from principles to accommodation. After President Putin received Russian Duma approval to use military force in Ukraine, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said its position must be based on both principles and facts, taking into account the “history and complexity of the issue.” China abstained in the vote on the Russian-vetoed, United Nations Security Council resolution affirming the territorial integrity of member state, Ukraine.

Ukraine itself is frozen into inaction. Despite announcements that the army has been mobilized and a 40,000 strong national guard created, Ukrainian soldiers are under strict orders: they can only fire weapons in self defense. Interm Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk gave a televised address to the nation, in Russian, stating that accession to NATO is not on the agenda. This meets a key Kremlin goal of a neutral Ukraine.
What’s next? Russia has annexed the Crimea outright and continues to claim the right to intervene in Ukraine to protect Russian citizens. President Putin has massed 80,000 Russian troops, 140 fighter jets, 90 combat helicopters, armored personnel carriers and advanced missile systems on the Ukrainian border.

James J. Coyle, Ph.D. is the Director of Global Education at Chapman University and is chair of the Eurasian committee of the Pacific Council on International Policy.