In many ways, the Second World War ended and the Cold War began in Crimea, at the Yalta conference that brought together Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. The February, 1945 meeting paved the way for peace, but also ensured Stalin could see beyond the war to a new age of Soviet hegemony. And so, here we are again.
Nearly 70 years after Yalta, the Cold War’s divisions were on the front burner over the weekend, as a muscular Moscow showed its determination to maintain its sphere of influence. It’s not just the Crimean military installations that Vladimir Putin seems to have his eye on. He does not want Ukraine to fall into the hands of NATO, the European Union and other Western forces he views with suspicion.
The West seems more uncertain – as we were going into Yalta – perhaps because of conflict fatigue. U.S. President Barack Obama was quick to chastise Mr. Putin for his Crimean foray, and just as quick to say American military action was not an option. His suggestion on Friday that there would be “costs” was important but insufficient. British Prime Minister David Cameron upped it Sunday to “significant costs.” But without knowing those threatened costs, it was hardly Churchillian in response to Putin’s Stalin-like strike.
What might those “significant costs” be? Political? A boycott of the G8 in Sochi in June, or even a suspension of Russia from the group, would be reasonable measures if Russia does not withdraw from Crimea. Commercial and financial sanctions? Those, too, would grab Mr. Putin’s attention, especially if they included a thorough scrubbing of Swiss bank accounts.
Like any strongman, however, Mr. Putin must know sanctions come and go. Might does not. As one small step, the U.S. should consider moving some of the Sixth Fleet, which is based in Naples, into the Black Sea. Putting more NATO forces on high alert would send a signal, too.
The long game will be more challenging. If and when this Crimean crisis is resolved, there may be a need for Ukraine to review its constitution and federal nature, not only to better accommodate ethnic Russian areas but to get beyond the years of political turmoil it has just endured. Who better to help than Canada?
As the big powers consider their options, Ottawa should be mindful of that need to play a long-term role in creating a functioning, 21st-century Ukraine. Such a role would require the confidence of Kiev, Washington, the European Union and most importantly Ukrainians of all ethnic and linguistic backgrounds – something to keep in mind in the tumultuous days ahead.