Putin’s Crimean land-grab does not presage a return of the Soviet empire but will shut Russia out of Ukraine

The seizure has strengthened the hands of the most anti-Russian elements in Ukraine

Share

Rulers of great powers in decline often seek short, sharp wars to restore their prestige. It was a kind of jittery paranoia about loss of grandeur that drove Napoleon III of France into his disastrous war with Prussia in 1870, and which then inspired Austria-Hungary to annex Bosnia in 1908. Russia’s aggression in Crimea falls into the same category – a vainglorious demonstration of muscle-power that is unlikely to achieve the hoped-for result.

Whatever the results of the stage-managed referendum in Crimea, it is a foregone conclusion that the region’s future lies now with Russia, not Ukraine. However, although Moscow’s bully-boy tactics will make Vladimir Putin the toast of Russian nationalists in the short term, it will not forever stifle simmering domestic discontent about his authoritarian regime. Nor will it reverse Russia’s steady but irreversible-looking decline as a power of the first rank.

Mr Putin will not, of course, lose much sleep because of a hastily assembled package of sanctions that Western European governments have ensured are no more than a slap on the wrist. Germany, above all, cannot afford a cold war with Russia, from which it receives 40 per cent of its gas. The penalty that Russia will pay as a result of its gambit on the Black Sea is different. The seizure of Crimea has strengthened the hands of the most anti-Russian elements in Ukraine and shattered the faith of those many Ukrainians who view the Russians as protectors, allies and even brothers. That image is now in tatters. Brothers do not bite off your arm. Only predatory neighbours do that. A wounded Ukraine is unlikely to come to Russia’s heel. It is much more likely to move out of Russia’s orbit permanently. To that extent, President Putin has solved the argument over Ukraine’s future and identity to Russia’s own disadvantage. If he now goes further and assists the secession of the eastern borderland of Ukraine around Donetsk, the rump state could paradoxically become a stronger, more consolidated, entity than it was before. This truncated Ukraine, shorn of most of its Russian minority, will not face two ways. It will see its future as lying alongside Poland and Germany inside the EU and Nato – not alongside Russia and Belarus in Mr Putin’s projected union of ex-Soviet republics.

Beyond Ukraine, Russia’s actions have caused dismay. If the Crimean manoeuvre forms part of a wider scheme to restore Russian influence in the far-off Balkans – as some maintain – it is not working. Serbia, Russia’s most reliable cheerleader in south-east Europe, is silent and embarrassed. The Russian-sponsored separation of Crimea from Ukraine has undermined Serbia’s own claim to its former province of Kosovo. Romania has gone further than Serbia. Its leaders have rushed to Kiev to sign a defence pact with Ukraine’s new government.

In short, the only gain for Mr Putin is reclaiming a small slice of land that Nikita Khrushchev gave to Ukraine in 1954. He is the new Tsar-liberator, at least in the eyes of the Russians in Crimea. Elsewhere in the world, he risks growing isolation, as the leader of the rogue state that cannot be trusted to deal with a shred of honesty with any of its neighbours. Mr Putin may enjoy being lonely. The question is whether the rest of Russia will, too.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions