I’m sure I’ll stop doing this soon. Any day now.
Sorry, but the fact remains that sanctions will not force Russia out of Crimea. This doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be imposed. Indeed, there are two excellent reasons why the United States should orchestrate and then implement as tough as set of sanctions on Russia as it can muster. First, this problem is going to crop up again. Vladimir Putin has now invaded two neighbors in six years to destabilize regimes perceived to be hostile to him. Post-Crimea, any new Ukraine government will continue to be hostile to the Russian Federation. There are other irredentist areas in the former Soviet Union — *cough* Transnistria *cough* — where Putin will be tempted to intervene over the next decade. At a minimum, he should be forced to factor in the cost of sanctions when calculating whether to meddle in his near abroad again. President Obama was correct to point out the “costs” to Putin for his behavior — now he has to follow through on that pledge.
Second, while sanctions cannot solve this problem on their own, they can be part of the solution. Over the long term, Russia does need to export energy to finance its government and fuel economic growth. Even if planned sanctions won’t bite in the present, the anticipation of tougher economic coercion to come is a powerful lever in international bargaining. The closer the European Union moves towards joining the U.S. sanctioning effort, the more that Russia has to start thinking about the long-term implications of its actions. Any political settlement over the future of Ukraine will require compromise by the new Ukrainian government and its supporters in the West. Imposing sanctions now creates a bargaining chip that can be conceded in the future.
(H/T: Tyler Cowen.)
2. In the Washington Post, Henry Kissinger has some thoughts on how to settle the Ukraine crisis, fwiw. (H/T: Josh Busby, Duck of Minerva.) The Post also has this post at the Monkey Cage by Daniel Nexon:
Moscow’s strategy for managing its internal relations — relying on subalterns, exploiting ethnic divisions, deploying military forces and using the toolkit of electoral authoritarianism — extends, if often in attenuated form, to those states it considers as falling within its “privileged sphere of influence.” It has long backed and leveraged secessionist movements in, among other places, Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan in the pursuit of political control. Although not always successful, this pattern dates back to the Soviet era and, before that, the Russian Empire. Indeed, the Kremlin’s power-political practices are as perennial as they are limited.
Nexon goes on to argue that Russia, when trying to exert influence, does not have recourse to the “extensive infrastructure of alliances, partnerships, and institutional prerogatives” that the US enjoys — and these limitations make Russia more prone to fall back on the “19th century option.”
3. Ilya Somin at the Volokh Conspiracy has a post on “Crimea and the morality of secession.” From a philosophical or theoretical standpoint, Prof. Somin is more sympathetic to rights of secession than many modern jurists, political theorists, and legal philosophers. Even so, and quite apart from the formal questions under the current state of inernational law, Somin does not see a good moral argument for secession in the case of Crimea:
Crimean secession for the purpose of joining Russia is likely to result in human rights violations. It is safe to assume that Russian rule in Crimea will be at least as oppressive as it now is in Russia itself. And that rule has included numerous severe violations of human rights, including censorship of opposition speech, intimidation and imprisonment of dissidents, and persecution of gays and lesbians, among others. Vladimir Putin has ruled Russia exactly as one would expect from a former KGB officer. There is no reason to believe that he would rule Crimea any differently. Indeed, the extent of repression in Crimea could even be greater, since the region has substantial Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar populations, both of which have strong historical reasons to oppose Russian rule. The Tatars in particular have a long history of repression, genocide, and mass murder at the hands of Russian and Soviet rule. Putin and his allies in Crimea might resort to harsh tactics to suppress opposition from these two groups.
The above analysis assumes that a majority of the Crimean population wants to secede and join Russia. Because the region’s population is about 58% Russian, this could well be true. But it is far from certain. The new Crimean government that called the referendum came to power in a coup last week. It is headed by Sergey Aksyonov, a former organized crime boss known as “the Goblin,” whose pro-Russian party got only 4% of the vote in the most recent Crimean election. Whether the new regime and its secession plan really do enjoy majority support in Crimea is at least questionable. We may never know for sure, since Putin and his Crimean allies probably won’t hesitate to resort to fraud, should the vote look likely to go against them, just as Putin has done with elections in Russia itself.
Regarding the Crimean Tatars, see also this post by J. Otto Pohl.
Regarding the probity of a referendum held while Russian troops still occupy the region, Clarissa says in this post, “any vote taken in such circumstances is worth what the water left after boiling eggs is.”
Image Credit: Caucausus & Crimea according to Huot & Demidoff. Drawn & Engraved by J. Bartholomew, Edinburgh, 1872. Source: Wikimedia Commons.