National Review’s editors on March 18, 2014, said that Vladimir Putin’s speech confirming what everyone already knew — that Russia would annex Crimea — was written up immediately afterwards by the media (and by former Western ambassadors to Moscow) as both a fait accompli in relation to Crimea and a Russian foreign-policy victory in general. It was certainly a bold, skillful, and effective performance. Excerpts below:

[Putin] underlined the historic relationship between Russia and Crimea — namely, that until the 1950s Crimea was a part of Russia. That argument will appeal to those Western companies, notably in German industry, that value their economic ties with Russia and would prefer not to risk them for what may look like — in Putin’s words — righting a historical wrong.

He promised that annexing Crimea was his last territorial demand in Ukraine. That will suggest to diplomats everywhere that if they agree to let Crimea be annexed (doubtless after some face-saving agreement on details that changes nothing important), they can relax and return to the status quo ante. What remains of Ukraine can then become the basis of a new compromise that would insist on something like a “unity” government, including pro-Russian parties — if we want to preserve our earlier illusions.

And overall Putin had some shrewdly reassuring words for almost everyone who might object to the swallowing of Crimea. He set out to sedate Crimean Tatars, Ukrainians, Western investors, NATO, even American conservatives who might be comforted by his warm historical references to Christianity.

So is the crisis over? Not quite.

Almost every reassuring passage in Putin’s speech was contradicted by another passage. His promise to respect Ukrainian sovereignty, for instance, was balanced by his claim of a right to protect ethnic Russians wherever they are under threat.

…his annexation of Crimea breaks Russia’s own pledge in the Budapest declaration to protect Ukraine’s territorial integrity. That does more than reduce the value of Russian promises — it emphasizes the awkward fact that Russia under Putin is a lawless state run by its own security services.

Above all, Putin is still behind where he was five months ago, when he began pressing his puppet, President Viktor Yanukovych, to withdraw Ukraine from its proposed relationship with the European Union. Then, Ukraine was not only part of Russia’s zone of influence; it was intended by Putin to become much closer to Moscow, to the point of joining his own Eurasian Union. Today Ukraine is outside Russia’s zone of influence altogether;

Crimea is not the end of a crisis but the midpoint of one that began with the occupation of parts of Georgia in 2008. The difference is that the West now realizes the nature of the Putin regime. Even if it fails to agree on serious sanctions, therefore, it will gradually move to reduce its reliance on undependable Russian energy.


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