GENEVA – The Ukraine crisis has evolved from acute to chronic. The main question – Will Russia dare to invade mainland Ukraine? – has been answered: Not now. So, now what?
Obviously, the Kremlin did not expect the West’s firm and united reaction to its annexation of Crimea. President Vladimir Putin’s phone call to US President Barack Obama on March 28 clearly demonstrated Russia’s eagerness to discuss “de-escalation.” Putin’s main objectives now are the removal of Ukraine’s blockade of Moldova’s pro-Russian breakaway region of Transnistria and Ukrainian “federalization” (a euphemism for the Kremlin’s back-door strategy to gain control over the country’s eastern and southern regions).
But there can be no return to business as usual anytime soon. Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea has triggered unintended tectonic shifts in international politics. While the long-term implications are still hazy, the immediate consequences are clear.
First, the Russian people will pay dearly in terms of their own freedom for their leaders’ reckless decisions. After the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, the Russian poet Alexander Galich wrote: “Compatriots, our homeland is in danger! Our tanks are in a foreign land!” Confrontation with the West, seemingly unavoidable after the Crimea Anschluss, will give rise to a “mobilization” regime. Russia’s new draft budget, with its skyrocketing military outlays, along with paranoid talk of “fifth columns” and “national traitors,” attests to this trend. In such circumstances, sanctions that hit ordinary people will only help the regime consolidate its power.