How Russia has changed its pattern of extending influence

Why is Russia incorporating Crimea?

Professor Stefan Hedlund:

Well, this is really a new development. The Russian pattern of extending influence into what used to be the Soviet Union has, up to date, been that of having undefined areas in other states that they can use as Trojan horses.

We have the enclave of Transnistria in Moldova, we have the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, and up until the latest development we had Crimea in Ukraine.

There would be some rationality from the Kremlin's point of view in having these territories as levers against the governments in Ukraine and Moldova and in Georgia.

Now Putin has said they are preparing legislation to include Crimea into the Russian Federation.

That’s not only an even larger violation of international law, it also goes against what was rationality in Russian behaviour before. This indicates to me that Russia – or Putin and his men in the Kremlin – are now beyond the rational discourse. They’re not really thinking about how these territories may be used in any rational power play, it’s completely emotional.

So now Crimea will be part of the Russian Federation.

What is likely to happen if trouble spreads to eastern Ukraine?

Professor Stefan Hedlund:

Russian annexation of the Crimea was something that we could have lived with. It could have stopped there and it could have been handled and probably dealt with in a legal, or semi-legal fashion.

But if trouble really does spread into the eastern parts of Ukraine, that is something that is going to be incredibly awful.

Putin said in his big speech yesterday (March 18, 2014) that they had no intention whatsoever of escalating the conflict into eastern Ukraine. But it’s only a couple of days ago that they had no intention whatsoever of including Crimea in the Russian Federation. So what Putin says doesn’t really tell us very much about what they’re planning to do.

And the problem with eastern Ukraine is that there are a lot of crazies loose on both sides that are probably not operating under anyone’s control. And if these people start spilling blood, and large numbers of people get killed in street battles, then the first step is that Ukrainian security forces will have to intervene and there will be more bloodshed and that’s exactly the pretext that the Russians will need for a full-scale army invasion.

An armed invasion into Ukraine will look very nice from the Russian perspective for the first two days, with tanks rolling across the step, but as soon as they get into urban warfare it’s going to get incredibly bloody.

So we’re looking at something now that incredibly, incredibly worrisome.

Sanctions against Russia were considered ineffective. What can the West do next?

Professor Stefan Hedlund:

Well, the problem with the European Union and the United States is that they are so far behind the curve now, everything they do just confirms the Russian position that the West is not to be taken seriously. They are just talking. ‘They may give us a slap on the wrist but that is something that we simply do not care about’.

The official response from the Russian Duma was, ‘We are honoured to be on your blacklist, please include us all!’ So they are daring the US to ‘come on and do your worst! What is the worst that you can do? Come on, and we will take it!’

This is no longer a game, this is really a very serious reality. And Western politicians, both Europeans and Americans will have to escalate on their side to do some really serious economic sanctions that will cause the Russians harm.

And the Russians are probably already fully prepared to retaliate big time against economic interests inside Russia, especially on the German side.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re looking at nationalisation of German businesses and other countries' businesses inside Russia.

This is now a shooting war. There will probably be bloodshed in Ukraine and there is going to be tremendously negative economic consequences on both sides when we enter into economic warfare between Russia and the West – which is bound to happen. There’s no going back from that anymore.

The only question is how long it is going to be where we reach a new point where we stand back and start talking again. And I fear that will be quite some time into the future.

(Picture credit: dpa)