The lead article in today’s New York Times, “Russia Prepared to Annex Crimea, Deepening Crisis,” describes a referendum to be held on March 16, granting the wishes of Crimea regarding its own self-determination.
The vote sets up both Russia and the United States as hypocritical about national boundaries and the autonomous regions within them. Russia, who supports the “right” of the Crimeans for self-determination, has refused that right for other regions within its own boundaries such as Chechnya. The United States, on the other hand, has supported the right to self-determination and even referendums regarding Scotland.
Russia currently seems to have all the cards. If “possession is 9/10ths of the law,” then the Russian occupation of Crimea suggests how the referendum will come out. Meanwhile, Russia is already threatening to expand its occupation into eastern Ukraine, creating even more headaches for American policy makers.
The United States seems to be drawing a line when it comes to Poland. They sent new fighter jets to the area and are coordinating closely with Polish authorities. Meanwhile, the threat of sanctions against Russia only seems to be infuriating them. They consider the new government in Kiev to be an unconstitutional coup, and they do have some arguments on their side to support that.
It is still possible for the crisis to subside, but that would require some out-of-character actions by Mr. Putin and a reversal of his stance.