When Russian troops first took to the streets in the Crimean region of Ukraine, I made some predictions to my wife. I predicted that there would be a lot of talk from the US, Europe and assorted other Western allies, but little else. The United Nations would make a resolution that the situation should be resolved by diplomatic means. America would bluster, and little else. Meanwhile, Russia would maintain its troop presence, Ukraine’s troops would fire nary a shot in anger, and the Crimea would end up being annexed to Russia almost by default, as international attention eventually moved on.
Well, I was partly right. The UN has, as usual, been all talk, and sometimes not even that. Russian troops are staying put. Ukrainian and Russian troops haven’t yet ended up in battle. Many countries have expressed their disappointment and regret at Russia’s actions, and Russia doesn’t give a toss.
Admittedly, I didn’t see the referendum coming. Whether it’s a good move or not by Russia remains to be seen. It may very well end up being a flashpoint, something that concentrates Ukraine’s mind on the imminent loss of the Crimea and sparks a reaction. Prior to the referendum being announced, the situation could have drifted on indefinitely, with Russian occupation becoming the default setting. With a referendum about to occur, with a pro-Russian outcome being a dead cert due to a lack of a pro-Ukraine option, Ukraine may see the use of force as the only viable solution to keep the Crimea. Whether that’s Ukraine’s ragtag reservist army that’s been rapidly formed, or informal pro-Ukraine militias, remains to be seen.
There will probably be violence, but I doubt the Ukrainian government is foolish enough to risk full-scale war with Russia. There’s now no credible way for Ukraine to keep the Crimea, and Ukraine must surely know that. Any violence will be from pro-Ukrainian protests that turn ugly. Unfortunately for those protesters, Russia is very good at putting down such protests in a quick and brutal manner…