The Russian military is reportedly in effective control of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, a move that is bound to have deep repercussions for the region and Russia's relationship with the West. It's early days yet, but so far the sense is that Russian President Vladimir Putin has pulled a fast one on the new provisional government in Ukraine and a European Union that would like to pull Ukraine and other Russian satellites into its orbit.
But what if the wily Putin has actually made a terrible mistake?
That is what Eugene Romer and Andrew S. Weiss suggest in an article in Politico Magazine, arguing:
We should not take for granted that even in Ukraine’s east and south, where so many ethnic Russians live, that a military occupation will be a cakewalk. Many local residents surely do not want to become Russia’s 90th province. In Ukraine’s west, where the Soviet Army had to fight a protracted counterinsurgency campaign after WWII against Ukrainian nationalist guerrillas, armed resistance is certain to be strong. During the revolution, many army depots and armories were overrun so there are more weapons floating around Ukraine than at any point since 1991. And the leadership of the main instruments of coercion — the army, the interior ministry, and the intelligence service — are all in the hands of political leaders with strong Ukrainian nationalist credentials. [Politico Magazine]
Furthermore, the fallout at the international level is going to be hell for Putin, even if the West stops short of intervention. The last scraps of credibility Russia had as a member of the United Nations Security Council — where it has steadfastly blocked action against Bashar al-Assad on the grounds of sovereignty — are shot. The great "reset" with the United States is in tatters. The Sochi Winter Olympics — which was supposed to be the face of a kinder, gentler Russia — will go down as the most expensive fig leaf in history. Romer and Weiss also suggest that Russia will be kicked out of the Group of Eight; surely some kind of economic pain will be involved.
Putin's Russia is more isolated than ever. Is Crimea worth all that?