The Possible Scenarios
Now that the situation in Crimea seems to have been escalating exponentially, it’s time to consider the options left open to the three sides to this argument.
Now that Russia has openly violated Ukraine’s territorial integrity and Russia’s parliament has given Putin the backing to deploy Russia’s military forces in Ukraine, it seems that Ukraine is stuck between a rock and a very hard place. Their only real options are either letting Russia simply annex Crimea through what seems to be intimidation, and hope that somehow they will stop on just Crimea and won’t push further, or they could deploy their own forces and attempt to push them out of the autonomous republic. Now the chances of this being successful all depend on a few things. 1) Whether Russia is truly willing to fully escalate the conflict over the territory and risk repercussions. 2) Whether Ukraine can show that all they are doing is removing foreign occupants from its own territory. So in essence it all comes down to what could be called a PR war, with each side needing to maintain its reputation and at the same time not overstepping its rhetoric.
If Ukraine does fight back however, and Russia does not allow its troops to be simply pushed out of Crimea which they’re supposedly there to protect, then Ukraine cannot hope to win this war without NATO backing. Ukraine’s military, even though much stronger than Georgia’s, will not be able to hold out for any significant amount of time in the case of an all out war. Therefore it is not surprising that Ukraine is holding out on any strong declaration or use of force until it can be certain of what stance the western powers(who are supposed to guarantee it’s territory) are going to take on the matter. If the West decides that Ukraine is not worth risking their relationship with Russia, then it seems that Ukraine is left with no choice but to simply let Russia take Crimea and have the 20% non-Russian citizens there to accept their new masters in the Kremlin. This will be the better option for Ukraine, since a war would further ruin their economy and destroy the current fragile political balance that’s in place as well as cause many unnecessary deaths.
Russia has two options as well, both of them heavily dictated by what their end goal really is. They can either continue their military action in Ukraine, use them to secure a consensus on Crimea’s willingness to be annexed by Russia or they can stop now and try to settle things politically. However judging from the facts that Russia was very quick to enter Crimea, before any actual attacks on Russia’s military bases or citizens took place, and that Russia has called back their ambassador to Ukraine, it seems that they are very unlikely to want to settle this peacefully. It does seem that the more likely scenario on Russia’s part would be the organization and funding of anti government protests in Ukraine, and using their ethnic minority in Ukraine to fuel the tension already present in the country. There have already been reports of Russian sponsored protests taking place in Eastern Ukraine, and Russian passports being openly given to members of Berkut, special police forces that were used by Yanukovych to try to suppress the original EuroMaidan protests. There’s already a large fear, especially in the west, of a split of Ukraine along the East and West axis with the Eastern, more pro-Russian half of Ukraine being either annexed by Russia or forming their own, Moscow backed country. If Russia get’s involved in the protests and attempts more of these coup tactics, this vision might become more likely by the day.
The situation is definitely a problematic one for Europeans and Americans. On the one hand, Ukraine is right on NATO’s eastern border and is a very important buffer zone which could be used in the case of any attack on Russia’s side. It’s important for NATO to keep Ukraine as pro Western as they can for this very reason. The EU would also consider it a success if Ukraine could be wrestled out from Russia’s influence diplomatically, and have shown that they are willing to help it improve its current state. The big question however, is whether the western powers are willing to intervene in any possible military conflict between Ukraine and Russia. In this respect, the situation is pretty unclear. So far the US and the EU have only been urging both parties to solve this diplomatically, with the harshest words only mentioning some form of sanctions against Russia in the case of unnecessary escalation in the conflict. The US seems very hesitant in mentioning any kind of armed conflict, most likely since support at home for this kind of war would probably be minimal. People in the west simply do not see themselves as directly affected by the recent events, not even if Russia would have annexed half of Ukraine. Ukraine being so far removed from the realities of the lives of people in the West that they would be willing to simply let this happen in exchange for peace and avoidance of war. The west has been living in a state of relative peace for so long, that it seems unreasonable to most of the people to willingly invite a major conflict to take place in their own backyard, especially over a nation of which most of their population knows next to nothing about, some even thinking that it’s still part of the USSR. It seems therefore, that unless Russia makes some kind of mistake which would force NATO’s hand, it seems very unlikely at this point that any kind of military conflict involving European or American troops will take place, and at most Putin will be slapped on the wrist with military sanctions and a wagging finger, the leaders of the West essentially letting him do what he wants.