The annexation is complete

Crimea is now irrevocably Russia’s, which isn’t a huge surprise. In my last post on the Crimea, I predicted that:

The Crimean government passes some sort of legislation that declares itself emancipated from Ukraine, before formally asking Russia to become a part of Putin’s empire. Ukraine and the rest of the world declare they will not recognise the legality of both governments’ actions, and sanctions will be imposed. The sanctions will be piecemeal, as too many EU countries depend on Russian gas and the money of their oligarchs. Yes, there’ll be some short-term pain for Russia, but losing Crimea to Western influence is so unacceptable to Russia’s strategic interests that they will weather that pain. The sanctions will slowly fade out and the world will return to normal – except that Crimea will still be in Russia’s hands…

Which has pretty much panned out, thus far. Putin has now signed a law ratifying a treaty that makes Crimea part of Russia, and has also created two new Russian administrative districts (Crimea and Sevastopol). Ukrainian military bases and ships have been taken by Russian forces (yes, ok, they’re still pretending not to be Russian, by not wearing identifying tags, but that’s not fooling anyone…) without resistance. The US and EU have targeted some light financial sanctions against various individuals supposedly associated with the takeover, while Russia have laughed off the sanctions and have hit back with some light sanctions of their own. Those on both sides who have been sanctioned are now wearing their sanctions as a badge of pride.

And that’s about where it will end, until the time comes to gently phase out the sanctions in the interests of international diplomacy.

Sure, the US and EU are talking tough about possible energy sanctions, but those threats always seem to carry an important rider – energy sanctions may be imposed if Russia goes further and tries to annex further territory. Why on earth would Russia go further? It’s already got what it wanted. Crimea has returned to its ownership. Its naval port at Sevastopol has been secured. It’s been playing the long games, and Crimea was essential for Russia’s long-term security.

The major long-term issue for Russia may though be the sudden determination that the EU has for energy dependence. Europe has partially learned from the oil shocks of 2006 and 2009, where supply was disrupted due to rows between Ukraine and Russia over unpaid bills. However, Russia still supplies about a third of the EU’s oil and gas, with some EU countries still almost entirely dependent on Russia. With the EU suddenly realising how powerless that energy dependence has made them, efforts will be redoubled to find alternative sources, which might hit Russia’s hip pocket in future years.

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