You don’t stay in power for 15 years without being quite good at chess. And Vladimir Putin is quite the chess player. But with the referendum of Crimea around the corner, Mr. Putin’s moves may turn out to backfire on him in the long run.
At the moment though, the game seems to be in a stalemate with the US, EU, and Russia all unsure of what their next moves should be. The United States is in a place where they only trade about $40 billion with the Russians, which isn’t much compared to the $400 billion the EU and Russia deal through a course of a year. That is why you see all the EU leaders hesitating to place any serious sanctions on the Russians as the impact on themselves would be far greater than that
on the US. In particular, Germany and Great Britain are particularly hesitant for several reasons. Germany imports a third of its gas and oil from Russia, with Russia importing about $48 billion worth of German vehicles, machines, and chemicals. London isn’t so fond because they have gained quite a bit of money from handling Russian money in the stock exchange. So a sanction would prove to be damaging for both EU superpowers. The United States on the other hand, has to be careful not to push too far ahead with sanctions for if the EU do not follow, they will look like a bunch of buffoons screaming “charge” but be the only ones running. With that being said, the US has begun to punish Russia for its actions, placing bans on visa and freezing assets. But far more needs to be done, by both the US and the EU. Unfortunately, Russia has the ability to cut the cord on gas for the EU and all the NATO troops in Afghanistan, where Putin gives NATO safe routes for delivery of supplies. It is in Putin’s power to also make the West’s lives harder over with Syria and Iran. There is a fine line that the two sides are playing on. But the West is no slouch at the game either. With that, the West is trying to come up with feasible solutions for the crisis.
The US stance is quite harsher than that of the EU’s. Obama wants to press sanctions on Putin’s inner circle while other senators call for the re-installment of missile-defence systems in Poland and Czech Republic. Russia didn’t like those plans when they were first announced in 2009, and if they were to be installed now, it would look like that had been planned the whole time. However, Poland and other minor countries in the EU like the stance of the US, and would want to see sanctions and embargoes placed on Russia if they do not vacate Crimea or if they continue to push into eastern Ukraine. However, most sanctions may prove to have a minimal effect on Moscow. One such sanction would be to suspend Russia from the G8. As much as Putin would want to take part, there is another summit he can still look forward to, which is the BRIC. However, the Americans do have a little something in the back pocket that could do Russia some real harm. If they were to lock Russian banks out of the international financial settlement system, that would prove a real pain for the Kremlin.
But it is not the sanctions that will give Putin his headaches, but rather the long-term consequences he will face for his actions in Crimea. One of which is the resurgence of the Ukrainian population. With him stirring up the whole sovereignty issue in Ukraine, many of them have turned their backs on Russia. And with that, the future leaders of Ukraine will likely have to do the same, feeling the public pressure to join the EU.
Another consequence of Putin’s aggression in Crimea, will be the resurgence of NATO. They are now granted with a new lease on life, as they have searched for a post-Afghanistan mission and have now found one. Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania have resorted to Article 4 of the NATO treaty, which allows any ally to communicate with others if their security, territorial integrity or independence is under threat and with that, Putin’s worst fear may be coming to life, a NATO with a new purpose.
It doesn’t stop there for Putin, he has practically ensured that the EU will increase the steps to cut its dependence on Russian gas. Having lost many of its clients, Russia must suffer the consequences.
With the referendum less than two days away, Putin may have to reconsider his moves, as they are not so straightforward anymore.