Not even a week after the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games in Sochi, the situation in Ukraine has taken an extremely serious turn, and it looks as if the next few days will determine the future of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, as well as the relationship between Russia and the west. Reading news reports, it seems that Crimea will most likely fall under Russian control. It is unclear what Crimea’s eventual status will be: it may be a form of secession from Ukraine and incorporation in the Russian Federation, or an independence from Ukraine only recognized by Russia and a select few others, or merely a de facto Russian control.
Crimea’s strategic and military importance is such that Russia is very likely to use this opportunity to gain and tighten its control. Given that the local population is broadly pro Russia, and Ukraine is unlikely to possess the necessary means of recovering the area by force, the west will protest loudly without a credible threat to deter Russia. The question then is not whether Crimea will fall under Russian control as it already is and will in all likelihood remain, but whether it will be limited to Crimea, or it will extend beyond Crimea to the eastern regions of Ukraine. Alternatively, will Russia aim for the reinstatement of the outsted Mr Yanukovych as the president as a kind of puppet to bring Ukraine firmly within the Russian sphere of interest? At this moment, the events will depend on what Russia wants to do, and what its aims are.
Ukraine might come closer to Europe, but possibly at the cost of losing some of its territory. Would such be an acceptable price? The next few days will be tense and unpredictable, but they will be profound in international politics.