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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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

Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Day In a Page

Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate