Ukraine crisis: Moscow catches the world off guard

With no appetite for a show of force and little leverage over Russia, the West is left with a choice of uncertain sanctions. Oliver Poole reports

After the shock, the response. For two days Western governments clung to the illusion that Vladimir Putin would not ignore their concerns, despite the hour-by-hour escalation of events in Crimea. The Russian parliament’s vote to send in the tanks snapped them out of that illusion.

The European Union, which at lunchtime yesterday was vaguely saying that foreign ministers would meet “early next week”, announced this would now happen tomorrow. The UN Security Council went into emergency session last night.

“We are now deeply concerned by reports of military movements taken by the Russian Federation inside of Ukraine,” President Obama said. John McCain, the former presidential candidate who in recent days has insisted threat be met by threat, went further. He wrote on Twitter: “Russian Senate backs Putin request to send troops to #Ukraine – straight out of Soviet playbook. Don’t want Cold War back, but Putin seems to.”

Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, said last night: “This is an unwarranted escalation of tensions. I therefore call upon the Russian Federation not to dispatch such troops, but to promote its views through peaceful means.”

Yet, as the howls of protest grow, what can actually be done? The  international community has looked impotent, condemning the actions but remaining a considerable way away from putting boots on the ground.

Read more: Ukraine vows to fight after Russia says yes to invasion
How far will president Putin go to keep his hands on Crimea?
Comment: No wonder Putin says Crimea is Russian
Cameron warns that ‘the world is watching’
Election monitors will be under extreme pressure
Editorial: We don’t want a war with Russia

With events moving rapidly, what options will now be considered?

Threats

No one wants war, but that does not mean there are no military options. Already the US military’s European commander, General Philip Breedlove, has ordered satellites to target Crimea and, it is being reported, called for a massive ramping-up in communication intercepts from across Ukraine. Others want more. The strident arm of the Republican party has been calling for the Bush-era missile defence plan to be revived, with missiles despatched to the Czech republic. They see what is occurring as a result of Barack Obama’s weakness – the flip-flopping over Syria, abandonment of Iraq, withdrawal from Afghanistan – and believe sabre- rattling is needed, returning strength with strength.

Isolation

Although Russia, as a permanent members of the Security Council, will veto them, resolutions may be introduced at the UN condemning what has unfolded. The G8 could revert to its pre-1998 incarnation as the G7, with Russia excluded. Turkey is likely to be a key determinant. It sees Crimea’s Tatars as kin, and has protested at injustices against those who returned from enforced exile after the Soviet Union collapsed.

Punishment

Sanctions are a blunt weapon, although the slowing Russian economy means a trade hit would impact – primarily on those who are poorest and weakest. The Bospherous is an important export route for Russian fossil fuels. Its closure by the Turks would hurt. But there are more targeted penalties available. Last week, Switzerland and Austria froze all assets linked to ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. London and the US, are likely to follow.

The Magnitsky Act, which at present has only been adopted by the US but allows it to bar Russian individuals linked to illegal activity, could similarly be extended. The Russian regime is as dependent on powerful backers as any other. Excluding them from holding money abroad, shopping in London or sending their children to favoured private schools will generate squeals of protest in Putin’s court. Targeting them may prove to be the most effective way of reminding Russia of its international responsibilities. In our highly connected world, it is not only bombs that can be used to strike back.

News
people And here is why...
News
people
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?