The week ahead: 4 developments to watch for in Ukraine
Men wave Russian national flags underneath a statue of Soviet revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin during a pro-Russian rally at a central square in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine on March 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Daniel Bitonti, CTVNews.ca
Published Sunday, March 9, 2014 6:39PM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, March 9, 2014 7:13PM EDT
With Russian troops seemingly continuing to grow their military presence in Ukraine’s Crimea, questions are mounting as to what comes next for the troubled region -- specifically, will Crimea secede from Ukraine; and will Russian President Vladimir Putin go further, bringing his troops into other regions of the country.
On Saturday, warning shots were fired as an international team of observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe tried to cross into Crimea.
A referendum is also set for one week from now: it will ask Ukrainians living in Crimea if they wish to join the Russian Federation. Some Western leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, have said the March 16 vote will violate international law.
As tensions remain incredibly high, CTVNews.ca spoke with Kathryn Stoner, a Stanford University professor who is an expert in Russian politics and international diplomacy. She spoke about what will likely be the next diplomatic steps in the crisis:
The push for more sanctions
Stoner says that during the coming week, Obama will likely be working hard to persuade European countries to impose sanctions on former top Ukrainian officials.
The Obama administration imposed new visa restrictions against pro-Russian opponents of the new Ukrainian government, and hinted last week that that more financial sanctions were likely to come. Canada has vowed to freeze the assets of members of the regime of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych “at the request of Ukraine’s prosecutor general.”
“Even if Russia withdraws from Crimea…the sanctions will stay in place,” Stoner said, adding that Russia will likely retaliate by denying U.S. citizens, and possibly citizens from other countries, travel visas for Russia.
And while further economic sanctions are soon expected, because Russia is not a major trading partner with the U.S. and other Western nations like Canada, broader economic sanctions do not pose a huge threat to Putin, Stoner said.
The issue is certain to come up on Wednesday, when Ukraine’s Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, visits Washington to meet with Obama.
International monitors entering Crimea
The most “dangerous” development to watch out for, however, is whether international monitors will be fired upon again if they attempt to enter the region, Stoner said.
Warning shots were fired on Saturday, though not in the direction of the observers and no one was hurt in the incident. Stoner says she believes another such standoff will heavily damage Russia’s reputation in the international community.
“This is already damaging for U.S.-Russian relations, five to 10 years into the future,” she said. “If the OSEC representatives keep getting fired upon, this will be very damaging to European relationships.”
Building up to a Referendum
Stoner says the next week will likely see the international community continuing to work hard behind the scenes to nix the referendum on Crimea’s secession from Ukraine, planned for March 16. Many countries, including Canada, have already said that it would not honour the results of a referendum.
Stoner says the referendum will likely go through, however. And if Crimea votes to join the Russian Federation, Stoner says the international community will move further to alienate Russia.
“The next logical step would be kicking Russia out of the G8,” Stoner said, adding that Canada, the U.S. and other G8 counties have already stopped their preparations for the upcoming G8 Summit scheduled for June in Sochi.
“Putin says that doesn’t matter…(but) it does matter to him. Remember, we just came out of the Olympics. They're (Russia) trying to represent themselves as modern country that’s back in the international community and a leader in the international community. Being kicked out of the G8 undermines that message.”
Pushes into other parts of Ukraine
Stoner says there is a real possibility that Russia could send troops into other, more eastern areas of Ukraine.
She says based on the conversations she’s had with Russians close to the situation, the country’s political and military analysts see Russia’s presence in Crimea as legitimate -- a move to help stabilize the country.
“They really don’t see it as ‘grabbing’ in an opportunistic fashion,” she said. “They view it as ‘the Ukraine is unstable; it’s been unstable for 10 to 15 years; our brethren, our Russian brethren, are suffering from that and we can help them from that.”
Stoner says the since Ukraine is not a part of NATO, the organization’s member countries -- including the U.S. and Canada -- will likely avoid any military action in Ukraine, even if Russia moves into other parts of the country.
Stoner said it is very unlikely, however, that Putin would ever attempt to enter another European nation.
“It’s just not in Russia’s interest,” she said. “Given that Putin’s mission really is to be, in a sense, a Peter the Great -- to modernize Russia, put it on the map, get it international respect.”