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Over the past few weeks, the media has been full to the brim with updates on the Ukrainian Crisis’. Now that the Republic of Crimea has been officially absorbed into the Russian Federation, supported by a quasi-legal 93% vote in favour of this by the Crimean people, Ukrainian forces are leaving the Crimea. The only question left to ask, however, is what next? Whenever I have talked about this with anybody most mention or alluded to a “World War Three”. Generally, there is a consensus that there is not a lot the West, or indeed anybody, can do to overturn Putin’s decision without serious consequences. The current EU and US sanctions have not stopped Putin’s decision, despite threats of more sanctions since the signing of the treaty. In reality, does any state want to lock horns with one of the most powerful states in history, a state that has its hand firmly on the tap that supplies a significant supply of the world’s natural resources? What are the options?
For the West, the most obvious answer would be to do nothing. Whilst there has been a moral outrage at Putin’s decisions, there has been little action in trying to pragmatically stop him. Whilst western Europe would rather their historic enemy stay as far east as possible, they are also aware that Russia can and will retaliate by reducing the flow of the life blood of modern Europe: gas and oil. America and Western Europe haven’t made huge efforts to stop Putin and it is doubtful that any significant action against Putin will actually materialise.
The options for the Ukraine are similarly limited. The Ukraine could retaliate using their army. However, they have already started to remove forces from the Crimea and it is unlikely that the Russian Federation will allow them back in to protect their land without bloodshed once they have left. Moreover, the Russian Federation has already spilt Ukrainian blood and taken hostages, including some high ranking army officials. The poor country of Ukraine would be unlikely to succeed against oil-rich Russia in any military war and some would argue that the Ukraine would be better off trying to protect what they have left rather than trying to recapture the Crimea. If Ukrainian forces went against Russia, it would be likely they would face their enemy alone due to the economic consequences for the countries that supported the Ukraine. Additionally the whole world is aware that Russia still has a large arsenal of nuclear weapons and it may test a lot of diplomatic ties to risk a potential nuclear threat in order to recapture Crimea.
Options for Russia, however, are very much open. Firstly Russia could increase military presence in the name of “restoring peace” among Ukrainians whilst making moves to gain more areas of Ukrainian land. The east of Ukraine is very rich in oil and natural gas reserves so it would be attractive for the Russian Federation to push forward to try and capture this land. Again they could probably do this very easily due to the lack of foreign support for the Ukraine.
On the other hand, for a long time Russia has not wanted Ukraine to build stronger ties with Europe and NATO. Putin could use economic sanctions by driving up natural resource prices and restricting trade routes to pressure the Ukraine into joining a non-western contact group and agreeing not to join NATO. This option is most likely on Putin’s agenda and would yet again be relatively easy to achieve.
Whichever angle you look at the situation from the prospects for the Ukraine and its peoples look bleak. Russia basically has free reign over what to do next and considering the lack of present action he will not feel worried about taking further, more radical actions against Ukraine. The West is caught in a dilemma. To condemn and act against Russia puts them in the firing line, yet to not do anything condones a crisis of a nation.