Economic difficulties are growing in Ukraine and dissidents in the east are continuing to rally for annexation to Russia. Around 1,000 protested in the streets of Donetsk today, citing difficult economic conditions and demanding union with Russia. And the Russian Foreign Ministry reports getting letters from ethnic Russians in Ukraine asking for protection. And Tymchuk reports that Yanukovych is financing dissident activities in the east.
But Russian dissidents are turning the tables on Putin. In Smolensk, dissidents there are demanding reunion with Belarus.
Organizers have collected some 1500 signatures on an Internet petition calling for a referendum on the transfer of part of Russia’s Smolensk Region to neighboring Belarus, a step they say would correct an “historic injustice” because that area belonged to Belarus before World War II and one that echoes what Vladimir Putin did in Crimea.
Belarus, which Stalin moved westward at the end of World War II, is only the clearest case, but all the borders among the former Soviet republics are problematic in terms of ethnicity and history. Until Putin’s Crimean Anschluss, all sides had more or less agreed that calling for the transfer of territory from one to another would open a Pandora’s box and therefore restrained themselves.Russia set the precedent with its annexation of Crimea. It is now only fair that they practice what they preach about international law and respect these peoples' right to self-determination. If this movement grows, it could strain relations between Russia and one of their few allies in the area in Belarus.
And Andrew Nagorski of Daily Beast reports that dissent is on the rise over Crimea despite the obvious risk of arrest and imprisonment.
Already, the anti-Putin demonstrators have outnumbered their pro-regime counterparts on the streets of Moscow, despite the risks of speaking out. Already, dissident intellectuals are drawing a clear distinction between how they see the country’s interests and the Putin regime’s aggressive actions. The fact that they are clearly in the minority now should be no comfort to the Kremlin.Given Russia's tanking economy, he sees Crimea as an act of desperation on Putin's part.
First, it undercuts an already vulnerable, weakening economy. Second, it undoes more than two decades of efforts to establish new, constructive ties between Moscow, its former Soviet bloc subjects and the rest of Europe. And, third, it sends a clear message that Putin is so unnerved by the vision of a democratic movement toppling a highly corrupt, incompetent crony in Kiev that he is willing to sacrifice the dreams of his own people to stay in power.
In the long term, the greatest threat to the Russian economy is that its neighbors will find new energy sources elsewhere. By dramatically reviving fears of the Russian bear across Europe, Putin has triggered their first serious efforts to devise strategies to wean themselves off Russian natural gas and oil. He can wield energy as a weapon now, but it is already proving a double-edged sword.If Putin does invade the rest of Ukraine, it will be sooner and not later. Time is not on his side given the growing dissent at home, the fact that Ukraine is scrambling to find alternative energy sources, the rise in separatism within Russia, and the rampant capital flight. And Interpreter reports that the EU is scrambling to fast-track Ukraine into the EU, meaning that there will be serious economic consequences if Russia were to follow through.
Putin may not care because he sees himself as fighting a more immediate battle for political survival. Whatever his approval ratings, the Russian leader knows how ephemeral they can be. He only has to remind himself of the huge anti-government demonstrations triggered by his return to the presidency in 2012. Putin’s real motive for his behavior since the downfall of Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych is his recognition of the example this could set for his own people.
1. Fast-tracking the process that countries have to go through in order to join the EU. The idea here is that things are moving too slowly, giving Russia time to react. The idea is also to strengthen economic and political ties, speed up the dropping of visa restrictions and the issuing of loans… the efforts will help, in theory, bolster the new members’ economies while increasing good will towards Europe. All of this will make Russia think twice about bullying these countries such as Ukraine, Estonia, and Modlova.
2. Threaten to sanction Russia if it executes further aggression. Economics is a major deterrent, though so far Europe has been hesitant to take a firm stand with Russia over the EU’s deep economic ties there — especially in the energy sector.
3. Work with Russia to try to mitigate their downside to new nations joining the EU. If Russia feels like it is losing less by not acting, and if the EU can convince Russia it will lose more than it bargains for by acting, the theory is that further expansion can be prevented.