World | Europe

March 18, 2014

Pressure Must Be Put on Vladimir Putin Over Crimea

Western leaders should beware of supplanting diplomacy with threats to Russia that they are unwilling or unable to back up

The decision by the EU and the United States to impose sanctions on selected Russian and Ukrainian officials is a limited response to the breach of international law that has taken place in Crimea. The measures include travel bans and the freezing of assets against individuals who played a central role in Sunday’s referendum, in which officials say 97 per cent of voters backed breaking away from Ukraine and joining Russia.

Vladimir Putin can have expected nothing less. The international community made it clear that there would be consequences if the referendum went ahead while the peninsula was occupied by Russian troops. Arguably, Mr Putin will consider the penalty imposed to be a price worth paying. But the big question now is what happens next. President Barack Obama said the screw would be tightened if the situation were to escalate in Ukraine – and this may happen very swiftly, since the aim of the Crimean separatists is effectively to secede from Ukraine within a month, adopting the rouble and joining the Russian time-zone.

So far, the West’s reaction has been commendably measured: EU leaders and Mr Obama insist that they are still searching for a diplomatic settlement. But as Sir Tony Brenton, Britain’s former ambassador to Moscow, has said, we must also be careful to give Mr Putin a way in which he can withdraw his forces without losing face at home. While it is true that Russia’s economy is weak and heavily reliant on sales of energy, its president is not inclined to back down in the face of Western pressure. Isolating Russia is one thing; confronting her is quite another. Over the next few weeks, Western leaders must beware of supplanting diplomacy with threats they are unwilling or unable to back up.

 

Text by The Telegraph
 

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