Understanding Russia’s Interests
There’s an interesting article originating in RIA Novosti and sponsored by Foreign Affairs that explains Russia’s actions in Ukraine:
Before talking about the consequences and the cost of the Russian intervention, one has to make it clear that, under the circumstances, Russia had no choice. It was not that, as the West claims, Russia wanted to subject Ukraine. First, that country saw a violent coup which toppled the legitimately elected president. The people who took his place, instead of setting about to consolidate the country, acted on the ‘woe to the vanquished’ principle. In this case, the ‘vanquished’ were thought to be the Russian-speaking population of the country’s south-east. Thus, the Supreme Rada voted to repeal of the law on languages that granted regional status to the Russian language (acting president Oleksandr Turchynov has now vetoed the move, but it was too late) and launched a lustration procedure with regard to them. The newly appointed Minister of Education, Serhiy Kvit, a nationalist, lost no time in declaring his intention to rewrite history and ban all the textbooks that children used under the previous government. There is a danger that West Ukrainian nationalism might become the official state ideology.
If you’re not familiar with the term “lustration procedure”, it’s a government procedure limiting the role of certain officials, presumably those with unwanted views, from participation in government. Officials from the American South were subject to lustration following the American Civil War. In post-World War II Germany lustration procedures were put in place. Many Eastern European countries had lustration procedures after the fall of communism.
Second, the course elected by the new authorities posed a serious threat to Russian interests in the whole country. This was not only because the new authorities might renounce Yanukovych’s obligations to Moscow (credit, debts for gas, the Kharkov Accords). The new Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, said he was ready to sign an association agreement with the European Union at any moment, ignoring Moscow’s position. For Russia, that would spell a total loss of economic ties with Ukraine and the future loss of Sebastopol as the base of the Black Sea Fleet, as Ukraine would turn into a kind of cordon sanitaire.
and then, of course, there was the loss of face by Russia. Read the whole thing.
None of the foregoing excuses the Russians’ actions, of course, but it should provide more understanding of why they’re doing what they are. It’s not simply aggression on Putin’s part and Russia would have done what it has whatever the Obama Administration did. They were motivated. They didn’t need to be emboldened.
As I’ve been saying since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine, Russia’s move was a foregone conclusion, our interests in Ukraine are not as pressing as Russia’s, and the tactical options open to us are quite limited. Under the Montreux Convention Turkey controls entry and exit to/from the Black Sea so we can’t just move ships there (where they would have restricted freedom of movement and be vulnerable to attack from land-based defenses anyway). The EU, which depends on Russia for a quarter of its energy needs, is unlikely to go along with economic sanctions, restrictions on travel by Russians is unlikely to have much effect other than showing that we’re doing something, and so on.