It simply cannot be overstated: this is best opportunity the US has had in decades to split Ukraine and its 40 million souls from Russia, and seal them up in western military and economic union. The Crimea, as the price of the bargain, is a pittance.
From a Ukrainian standpoint, this is the dread scenario of the past 20 years, ever since Ukraine turned over its nuclear arsenal in exchange for a Russian guarantee of territorial integrity. Every day now, Ukrainians are treated to images of Russian troops on Ukrainian soil, and thinly-veiled threats from a bellicose Russian president. Each day that passes, Ukrainians are learning the utter worthlessness of their alliance with Russia. The Obama administration could hardly have scripted Ukraine’s alienation from Russia any better.
Liberal values are not implicated here. There are NO human rights issues at stake – nor is there a threat of war. Morally, we should be indifferent as to whose flag flies over the Crimea, so long as it isnt noxious to the principle of self-determination – and along those lines, a popular referendum would probably see a majority of Crimeans prefer to be a part of Russia, not Ukraine.
Of course the concern is over precedent – it wont do to have big powerful countries swiping land from weak neighbors. The US and its NATO/EU allies can and should beat that drum for all its worth, to tarnish Russia’s already-dismal reputation as a treacherous, irresponsible world citizen. But by all means they should NOT do anything to precipitate the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Crimea. Ukraine, not the Crimea, is the big prize to be won. With Ukrainian elections coming end of May, the US should want Russian troops to stay – in fact, the more, the better – to further marginalize Russia, and to swing Ukrainian elections to pro-west, Russia-phobic candidates.
The Crimea is already Russian in all but name, and has been for 200 years. Before this so-called crisis began, Russia had everything it wanted from the Crimea – a sympathetic government, economic ties, military bases, and a prosperous and growing Russian population. – Everything except the Russian flag flying over Crimean government buildings. The US should be happy to give Putin the latter too – and be sure that it costs him the rest of Ukraine.
Russia only recently put up $15 billion to buy the Ukraine out of its flirtation with NATO and the EU – coughing up 20 times what the EU was offering in loans, plus other aid – without conditioning any of it on government reforms. What is rarely mentioned in the press is that Russia paid big for this alliance, and now they are rather stupidly blowing it.
If in a decade Russian flags sit atop public buildings in Sevastopol, while EU flags sit atop public buildings in Kiev, this will have been a great coup for the US and its allies, and a devastating Russian blunder.