Russia continues to accuse Western nations of bullying and hypocrisy.
This comes as the Kremlin consolidates its hold on Crimea, which it begrudgingly considered Ukrainian soil only as far as Tuesday — lessons in democracy coming out of Moscow.
Moving swiftly after Crimeans voted in a referendum to join Russia, President Vladimir Putin said: “Our Western partners, led by the US, prefer to practice their politics guided not by international law, but the law of the strong. They have come to believe that they are exceptionally qualified and empowered to resolve the fates of the world. They bring power to bear against sovereign states and build coalitions based on the principle ‘whoever’s not with us is against us.’”
An annexation treaty Putin signed with pro-Russian Crimean leaders says the autonomous territory will be fully integrated into Russia after a transition period.
Kyiv, Brussels and Washington twitched.
At least, that’s how jubilant Muscovites and their politicians interpreted Western expressions of outrage over the move and a first phase of sanctions. The powerful in Moscow scoffed at the measures.
In contrast, in the biggest crisis in East-West relations since the Cold War, US President Barack Obama sought to present his Russian counterpart’s move as motivated by impotence at home — troops in Crimea or not.
Obama said: “The truth is that Mr. Putin acted out of weakness, not out of strength. We are not going to be getting into a military excursion in Ukraine. What we are going to do is mobilise all of our diplomatic resources to make sure that we’ve got a strong international coalition that sends a clear message, which is that Ukrainians should decide their own destiny.”
Russia accuses the new pro-Western authorities in Kiev of endangering Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine. It says it will insist that its compatriots’ rights and freedoms be fully respected.
Warning of the risks that could come with a weak response to Moscow’s absorption of Crimea, Washington foreign policy pundits Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft have been analysing Putin’s justification of his moves against Ukraine. Both Americans are former US National Security Advisors.
At a conference at the Center for Strategic & International Studies think tank in Washington, DC, they said a surprisingly efficient annexation of Crimea ends a quarter of a century of constructive relations between Russia and the United States.
According to Brzezinski: “We have to convey to the Russians our concern that those words spoken by Putin are terribly reminiscent of what Hitler was saying about Austria before the Anschluss [the occupation and annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany in 1938], which was then followed by the Sudetenland [areas of other countries inhabited mostly by German speakers], and we know the rest of the history. And that could be very serious in Europe. Either we can be passive in the face of a calamitous explosion or maybe the Ukrainians will fall apart and simply there will be a repetition of what happened in Crimea.”
In Scowcroft’s opinion: “Putin is a different person, a very different person from Gorbatchev or even from Khrushchev, and he has the outlook of someone who was KGB and who saw the Soviet Union collapse. He is a person full of venom, because he thought that that collapse was taken advantage of by the West, especially by the United States, to humiliate Russia or take advantage of Russia.”
Neither Scowcroft nor Brzezinski see Europe’s new insecurity as a return to the Cold War; they see it in a different context of 21st century reality.
Brzezinski: “Putin has to consider: can he really undertake a war at this stage in the heart Europe given the state of his economy, which is really very bad, and the relatively retarded state of his military, which is only now being modernised? If he did this ten years from now, he might be in much better shape. But right now, I don’t think a serious conflict in that part of Europe is something that Putin would welcome. He would like to have a quickie: either the break-up of Ukraine or some upheaval within Ukraine. And I think we have to reassure him in a constructive fashion that that is somewhat unlikely, because we have interests too.”
Scowcroft said Putin’s action could have been averted if the West had paid attention to Urkaine’s economy, but, he said, both the US and Europe have been lazy about the whole thing.
Scowcroft: “The EU made an offer for a relationship with Ukraine. It didn’t amount to anything. Putin turns around and offers a 15 billion dollar loan. What the United States could have done at that time and I think should have done is to say, look, Ukraine’s economy is in terrible shape, let’s us, the United States, the EU and Russia put together a programme of assistance to Ukraine.”
Our correspondent Stefan Grobe asked Brzezinski if the initial sanctions taken against Russia are enough.
Brzezinski answered: “Well, they [the sanctions] are like the introductory phase of a dinner, just a little bit of a preliminary bite, but not too much bite.
Grobe: “Do you expect more?”
Grobe concludes: “The foreign policy establishment in Washington is deeply troubled by Putin’s action and by the Western response. The hope is that President Obama and the European allies at the EU summit in Europe next week will find a more muscular approach.”