As Western governments mull additional sanctions in response to Russia’s invasion and subsequent annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region, Washington and Brussels won’t be the only world capitals watching to see the impact: Should the new restrictions bite into Russia’s economy, they will have a painful trickle-down effect on the former Soviet republics of Central Asia.
The United States and European Union have announced sanctions aimed at punishing a handful of Russians and Ukrainians for their roles in destabilizing Ukraine, where a weekend referendum in Crimea endorsed a plan by breakaway officials there to join the Russian Federation.
As the reality of the Vladimir Putin’s Crimean land grab sinks in, the most alarming aspect of it all is not the ease with which Russian troops seized the peninsula, but the way the Kremlin mobilized Russian public opinion behind its agenda.
When empires collapse, disputes over new borders – both political and cultural – are inevitable. Such disputes are especially acrimonious, and often turn violent, when the territory in dispute involves what the eminent French historian Pierre Nora called lieux de memoire – “places of memory” that are revered by citizens of a nation.
The Russian-Ukrainian crisis over Crimea is forcing Turkey into a delicate balancing act: Ankara feels a need to be seen as a protector of the peninsula’s Tatar minority, yet it does not want to vex Russia’s paramount leader Vladimir Putin in a way that complicates Turkish-Russian economic arrangements.
After offering a coldly efficient example in Ukraine of the use of hard power, Russia’s paramount leader Vladimir Putin is turning his attention to shoring up Moscow’s soft power capabilities, namely keeping his vision for Eurasian unification on track. There are signs, however, that his Eurasian aspirations will be more difficult to fulfill than his Crimean land-grab.