What is Putin’s next move?

On Tuesday, Russian president Vladimir Putin “completed the first annexation of another European country’s territory” since World War II by absorbing Crimea into the Russian Federation “with the stroke of a pen”, says Kathrin Hille in the Financial Times.

Moscow claims 97% of those who participated in Crimea’s referendum on Sunday voted to join Russia, but no one should “take its validity seriously”, says Con Coughlin in The Daily Telegraph. “In the wake of this landgrab, it is imperative to establish a grand strategy to intensify Russia’s isolation.”

The aim should be to ensure that Putin and his KGB cronies are no longer able to threaten the West, while avoiding a full-blown trade war.

America and the EU have already announced travel bans and asset freezes against a handful of Russian and Ukrainian officials, but we need to “hit the Russians where it hurts most” by restructuring our energy supply and becoming less dependent on Russia.

Putin is “not going to lose sleep” over a “hastily assembled package of sanctions that western Europeans have ensured are no more than a slap on the wrist”, says The Independent on Sunday. Germany in particular, which gets 40% of its gas from Russia, cannot afford a “cold war”. But Putin’s actions could cost him dear.

His only gain is a “small slice of land that Nikita Khrushchev gave to Ukraine in 1954”. Elsewhere he risks “growing isolation”. Moscow’s “bullyboy tactics” may make Putin the “toast of Russian nationalists in the short term”, but they will have “shattered the faith” of the many Ukrainians who view Russians as their protectors and allies.

At the same time, they won’t stifle “simmering domestic discontent” with Putin’s authoritarian regime. If Crimea’s future now lies with Russia, Ukraine is “much more likely to move out of Russia’s orbit permanently”.

Putin has told both houses of parliament that he has no wish to divide Ukraine, but make no mistake, says Chrystia Freeland in the FT, his “goal is to dismember” the country. Russian troops are massing on Ukraine’s borders. Ukraine cannot resist invasion if it cannot pay its soldiers or buy gas.

We are providing economic assistance and we must continue to do so. If Russian troops move past Crimea, we must be prepared to respond aggressively. “We have grown used to the idea that democracy and global economic integration are free.” The decisions Putin makes about Ukraine will determine “how much our generation needs to pay to continue to partake of them.”

Merryn

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