As Russia uses its military to take the Crimean region from the Ukraine, the United States and its Western allies weigh whether economic sanctions will change that policy.
To determine if this would work and what plans Vladimir Putin might have in response, several experts on Russia as well as the Ukraine were consulted. Here is what Professor Robert S. Kravchuk, Director of the Master’s Program in Public Affairs at the School of Public & Environmental Affairs at Indiana University told me in an email communiqué.
“Ukraine will not be able to dislodge Russia from Crimea without Western military intervention; that prospect is highly unlikely. Crimea may be lost to Ukraine, but Putin should be forced to pay some price for it. Isolating Russia via sanctions may hurt the Russian population, but not the ruling elites, at least immediately, and Putin’s narrative would account for such moves as further evidence of the West’s efforts to isolate and surround the Russian Motherlands. Rather than an outright invasion, I would be more concerned about straw referenda in the Eastern provinces (Kharkhiv, Luhansk, Donetsk, e.g.), with a majority approving secession from Ukraine. That could be followed by Russian military occupation of those provinces. It is unclear how the crisis might end if that were to eventuate. Military escalation remains a distinct possibility. I fear that Putin may have unleashed forces that he cannot control.”
Kravchuk is the author of Ukrainian Political Economy: The First Ten Years, and also the co-author of Politics and Society in Ukraine and State and Institution Building in Ukraine with Paul D’Anieri and Taras Kuzio.
Would having a vote on statehood for the Crimea solve the problem? When contacted about this option, Professor Nicolai N. Petro of the University of Rhode Island, a 2013-2014 U.S. Fulbright Research Scholar in the Ukraine, had this much to say about the prospects for a referendum.
“A referendum is the optimal solution, but held on such short notice, without international observers, and without the blessing of the government in Kiev, it will be seen by many as illegitimate. I think it would be wiser for the government in Simferopol to delay the holding of any referendum until at least the end of year, so that tempers cool, and international observers become involved. This would lend any referendum much greater credibility. By the end of the year there will also be a new Ukrainian president and parliament, which might be more receptive to holding such a referendum.”
Petro is the author of The Putin Generation: How Will Its Rise Affect US-Russian Relations, as well as Russian Foreign Policy From Empire to Nation State (with Alvin Z. Rubenstein) and several others on Russian politics.
What about the prospects for such votes in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine leading both regions to break away and join Russia? According to Professor Joe Cafaro in the History Department of LaGrange College and Guest Lecturer for the Naval War College on Russian issues said this in an interview.
“The real problem will be when parts of East Ukraine look to join Crimea in Russia. There’s going to be a divorce in the Ukraine. It’s coming, and it’s not going to be too ‘velvety.’ But economic sanctions are a double-edged sword. Putin can hurt West Europe by shutting off natural gas exports, but his economy will be hurt by a lack of those natural gas sales.”
It remains to be seen whether the breakup in Eastern Ukraine will continue, and whether economic sanctions will lead countries to change course, but for now, all three experts point to the dispute as lasting a long time, and remaining a serious problem for the future.