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by William Pfaff
After Vladimir Putin's speech in the Kremlin justifying and welcoming Russian annexation of Crimea, the western press now asks what next will Putin do? How far will he go?
That question was answered by Vladimir Putin himself in his address. The Russian president said his country has no further demands to make on Ukraine. Crimea became an issue because the West "crossed a red line," a reference to American and European efforts to bring Ukraine into
The Ukrainians -- the Ukrainian-speaking westerners at least -- don't believe that President Putin intends to go no further. Ukraine's new prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, back from Washington, declared that President Putin now "threatens the entire world."
More modestly, but perhaps more significantly, was the opinion reported by Le Monde's special correspondent in Kiev. He reports that after Mass last Sunday, groups were volunteering to battle the Russian army, allegedly "massed at the frontiers." An army reservist said he and his friends will form a parallel army, as they have "no confidence in Ukraine's defense minister, an idiot who won't even let us train with live grenades."
But one must ask, why should President Putin make further demands? Thus far, he is winning all the way. The Crimea vote was a triumph. So was his speech in Moscow: all cheers and tears of joy. He brushes off western sanctions. Once again he has made Barack Obama seem out of touch, protesting violation of international law when the world knows the U.S. is the country that ignores it most.
Crimea has climate, beaches, agreeable hotels and views, as well as a naval base that was Russian for many years, where Russia has already made heavy investments, depending upon it for naval access to warm waters. The rest of Ukraine has nothing to match this. It only offers trouble for Russia, or so I would assume Mr. Putin thinks. His speech once again offered propositions to make peace, which Washington has scorned.
As a separate and independent country, Ukraine only promises trouble for Russia. The Russian ethnic and linguistic minority there, which lives mostly in the east and south, near the borders with Russia, has been put in a furor by all that has happened, and claims that Russian troops in unmarked uniforms have infiltrated the region as if readying the country for a Russian invasion and annexation.
But there seems to be no hard confirmation of these reports from western journalists or foreign diplomats actually there. There are many reasons to think them implausible.
The first is that any Russian move towards further intervention in Ukraine, or sign of annexation ambitions, would immediately provoke a sharp and dangerous military reaction from
The existing authorities in Kiev have already assured Russia that there is no Ukranian threat to Russia. Ukraine will not join
The second reason to doubt Russian intervention in eastern Ukraine is that the Ukrainian economy is in poor condition and Russia, whose own economy is weak, scarcely needs the burden of supporting Ukraine as well. The two countries' already intertwined economies, particularly their energy industries, would be severely damaged by the still stronger western reprisals that would follow any aggressive Russian move.
It is true that Western Europe heavily depends on Russia for natural gas supplies. Russia sells Europe one-third of the latter's natural gas consumption. But that gas is being sold, and Moscow would be badly hit by loss of its return on gas sales to the West.
The same is true in a wide array of industrial relationships between Russia and Europe. Germany --
Britain now looks like the big loser in applying sanctions. Russia's oligarchs all have (or had) their money with London bankers (who tucked it away in British-flag islands and territories) and their lavish family homes in Mayfair and Kensington, with stately homes in Surrey. They may go back to Russia, if things get rough, but they can't take their money with them, and can't even get at it where they are. The City and Wall Street have it, locked up by sanctions.
Article: Copyright © Tribune Content Agency
"Ukraine Only Promises Trouble for Russia"