Ukraine crisis: How do you solve a problem like Crimea?

With shots fired by Russian troops, Putin condemning a ‘coup d’état’ and senior diplomats scurrying to ease tensions, there seems no end in sight to the grave crisis engulfing Europe’s eastern edge

Alistair Dawber
Wednesday 05 March 2014 09:05
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Colonel Yuli Mamchor, commander of the Ukrainian military garrison at the Belbek airbase, leads his unarmed troops to retake the Belbek airfield from soldiers under Russian command in Crimea
Colonel Yuli Mamchor, commander of the Ukrainian military garrison at the Belbek airbase, leads his unarmed troops to retake the Belbek airfield from soldiers under Russian command in Crimea

Vladimir Putin has given a confident performance in front of the media, insisting that the events of the last 10 days in Ukraine amounted to nothing less than a coup d’état. At almost the same time, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, arrived in Kiev to shore up the new, pro-Western, yet unelected government.

In Crimea, where Russian troops have taken control and faced an ugly stand-off with Ukrainian forces at the Belbek military airbase, the situation is a long way from being under control. The Russians have effectively annexed the region, despite Mr Putin’s protestations to the contrary.

Ukraine’s finances have flirted with the precipice for a month and Washington announced a $1bn aid package; but beyond that, there seems to be little of substance from the West that will ultimately bring a swift end to the stand-off.

In truth the West has very few sticks with which to beat Moscow: the UK Government’s position – seen through a photographed briefing paper on Monday – makes clear that Mr Cameron is hoping others pick up the mantle. But allies in the EU are just as concerned about the supply of cheap energy from Russian gas fields as they are with the future of Crimea, and the US administration under Barack Obama has proven itself over six years to be doveish to the point of being seen as weak in the face of aggression.

Despite the tensions, the Russian military went ahead with the test-firing of a Topol intercontinental ballistic missile. The missile hit a range in Kazakhstan. The US said it had been notified of the test before the crisis began.

Vladimir Putin said Russia saw no need to use military force in the Crimea region of Ukraine for now

Moscow has no interest in armed conflict – a point underscored by Mr Putin – and its financiers will take as real the threat posed to the Russian economy by investors being spooked. But nor does it want to lose face by appearing to cave in to Western demands. All of which means the crisis in Crimea – in which nobody appears to have the upper hand – is far from being resolved.

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