The seizure of Crimea by Russia could be a done deal. A rigged election will be held there next Sunday, in which there won't even be a place for "no" votes. The Duma has already signaled that they will ratify it if Crimea annexes itself to Russia. And Ukraine's new government, for all its bluster, has done nothing to evict the Russian troops and their "self-defense" allies.
But paradoxically, this move could benefit both Russia and NATO. Putin will solidify his power since he can turn around and tell the nationalists that he stood up to Western interference. Also, he will not have to worry about future Ukrainian administrations kicking the Russians out of its naval base in Crimea. And NATO and the EU will benefit too. Crimea was one of Yanukovich's biggest areas of support; with Crimea out of the picture for the May 25th elections, the balance of power will be tilted irreversibly to the pro-Western leaders. Naturally, this will drive Ukraine into the arms of NATO and the EU, which they will rush to complete before other sections of Eastern Ukraine secede.
Washington Post columnist David Ignatius criticized Putin’s actions on Face the Nation, saying Ukraine "is not prepared to go backwards" to a Russian regime. He then offered up some context about Crimea’s history.Crimea had never been part of Ukraine before 1954.
"Crimea became part of Ukraine only in 1954," he said. "Crimea was historically part of Russia, and (Nikita) Khrushchev gave it to Ukraine in a gesture that mystified some people."
Ignatius was correct in saying that Ukraine has only controlled the Crimean Peninsula since 1954 -- a claim we also heard from U.S. Rep. Mike Roger, R-Mich., on Fox News Sunday.
But the danger is that other parts of Eastern Ukraine may try and break away as well. If they feel marginalized by the new government which emerges after May 25th, there will be even more of a push to become part of Russia. Obama will not risk war over that if Ukraine is not part of NATO. However, the question is, how will he keep face in that event if Ukraine chips away bit by bit to Russia?
And Ukraine is not out of the woods. They will likely accept some sort of IMF bailout since they are broke. However, they will have to submit to harsh austerity measures similar to what other EU countries had to go through. That will lead to the right becoming more powerful, which will lead to more friction with the Russian minorities in Eastern Ukraine as well as Russia itself. And some of the same people who were part of the Euromaidan protests may turn on the new government in protest of the austerity measures sure to be imposed, which could result in even less stability.
A seizure of Crimea by Russia could result in a race against time between Obama and Putin. Putin does not use force unless he thinks he can win easily, as in the case of Georgia. However, Putin, in his role as Big Brother protector of Russian minorities in other countries, would have to scramble to lay the groundwork for other eastern provinces to break away. And Ukraine would have to scramble to join NATO and the EU before that happened.