Putin Signs Treaty, Lays Groundwork for Annexing Crimea

Posted: Mar 18, 2014 11:15 AM

Don’t worry. While Russian President Vladimir Putin has indeed officially signed an agreement to make possible the annexation of Crimea into Russia, he assures the people of Ukraine -- and the West -- that this will be his last territorial land grab. Or so he says.

Reuters has more:

Russian President Vladimir Putin, defying Ukrainian protests and Western sanctions, on Tuesday signed a treaty making Crimea part of Russia but said he did not plan to seize any other regions of Ukraine.

In a fiercely patriotic address to a joint session of the Russian parliament in the Kremlin, punctuated by standing ovations, cheering and tears, Putin lambasted the West for what he called hypocrisy. Western nations had endorsed Kosovo's independence from Serbia but now denied Crimeans the same right, he said.

"You cannot call the same thing black today and white tomorrow," he declared to stormy applause, saying Western partners had "crossed the line" over Ukraine and behaved "irresponsibly".

He said Ukraine's new leaders, in power since the overthrow of pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovich last month, included "neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites".

Following the referendum on Sunday -- which the U.S. and the West did not recognize, and in which roughly 97 percent of Crimean voters cast ballots in favor of annexation into Russia -- Putin further argued in his speech that “Crimea has always been an inalienable part of Russia,” and that the results of the plebiscite give his (unilateral) actions legitimacy. Nevertheless, experts are now wondering if Putin will stop at Crimea; that is, will his thirst for more territory be satiated, or will he keep going deeper and deeper into Ukraine?

Some experts have speculated that Putin's ultimate ambition is to protect ethnic Russians across the former Soviet empire.

"Putin is prepared to keep on pushing," Fiona Hill, a Russia expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, told the Associated Press. "I wouldn't be at all surprised if he moves into other points into eastern Ukraine."

President Obama gave a press conference yesterday after announcing additional sanctions on Russian and Ukrainian political figures. “We’ll continue to make clear to Russia that further provocations will achieve nothing except to further isolate Russia and diminish its place in the world,” he said. However, with Russian officials openly contemptuous of the president, one wonders how effective the sanctions will ultimately be in deterring Putin and his allies:

Moscow showed no signs of flinching in the dispute that has roiled Ukraine since Russian troops took effective control of the strategic Black Sea peninsula last month. In fact, one of the Russians named openly mocked the sanctions.

"Comrade Obama, what should those who have neither accounts nor property abroad do? Have you not thought about it?" Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin tweeted. "I think the decree of the President of the United States was written by some joker."

Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden is in Poland this week assuring our allies that the U.S. stands in solidarity with them. But what he hopes to accomplish diplomatically, if anything, remains to be seen:

One senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the vice president’s plans, said his trip is “first and foremost to reassure our allies that we are deeply concerned about Russia’s action in Ukraine and what the deeper implications might be.”

The adviser said Biden will discuss measures that would be taken “in the days and weeks ahead,” building on financial sanctions imposed on 11 Russian and Ukrainian officials that President Obama announced Monday but that appeared to have little effect on Putin’s calculations.

Garry Kasparov, who is chairman of the Human Rights Foundation (but who also spent years in Russia raising awareness about President Putin’s contempt for democracy and free speech), warned over the weekend that dictators do not respond well to appeasers or capitulators. And U.S. leaders -- and the West -- should take notice:

Putin is no master strategist. He’s an aggressive poker player facing weak opposition from a Western world that has become so risk-averse that it would rather fold than call any bluff, no matter how good its cards are. In the end, Putin is a Russian problem, of course, and Russians must deal with how to remove him. He and his repressive regime, however, are supported directly and indirectly by the free world due to this one-way engagement policy. Putin is no Hitler, and there will never be another. But we cannot forget the harsh lessons Hitler taught us about the fatal dangers of appeasing a dictator, of disunity in the face of aggression and of greedily grabbing at an ephemeral peace while guaranteeing a lasting war.

One hopes our leaders can resolve this territorial dispute diplomatically. But ignoring "the lessons of 1938," as Kasparov put it, by preserving the peace at any cost is no solution, either.

Read the whole thing here.

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