Crimea vote a reality check 
for the West



Leaders of the U.S. and EU member states have promised a tough reaction if Crimea joins Russia, up to a complete international isolation of the latter. But cutting Russia off completely may not be so easy.

{***Crimea vote a reality check 
for the West***}

Click to enlarge the image. Drawing by Konstantin Maler

Read Vladimir Kolosov's opinion on the next page

By Fyodor's Lukyanov, Kommersant

It's done. The hope by some Western leaders that the referendum in Crimea was a tactical move to up the ante has evaporated. Now threats have to be carried out.

But there is no experience of enacting effective sanctions against a nuclear superpower that occupies a large part of Eurasia, retains influence all over the world and has an enormous wealth of resources.

Can Russia face isolation of the sort that has been threatened? Complete isolation is, of course, impossible. First, it is impossible to ignore such a huge and significant country as Russia. Secondly, even if the West introduces the toughest possible sanctions, to its own detriment, that would not signify a global blockade.

An enormous share of the world's population – in Asia, in the Middle East, in Latin America – are watching with bated breath as someone, for the first time since the 1980s, attempts to challenge U.S. dominance.

Formally, no country will support Crimea joining Russia. No matter how China, Brazil or even Iran may feel about Ukraine, nobody needs the precedent of one UN-recognized state annexing part another.

But the fact that Russia can start to play a truly independent role on the world arena, indifferent to the reaction from the West, is of interest to many. That could change the global balance of power. Beijing, for instance, now has considerable prospects open to it.

An anti-Russian mobilization is also possible, all the more so since the West - for the first time in the last 25 years - is facing a point-blank refusal to adhere to the rules of the game that were established after the Cold War.

The sanctions will be aimed to undermine the Russian economy, and there can be many options there. But a different scenario is possible too. The initial reaction will of course be strong. But if Russia in earnest starts to shift its focus to Asia, then realistically minded strategists will start to look at things from a different angle.

What is more important: control over Ukraine, which is not exactly at the top of the U.S. list of priorities, or preventing a Russian-Chinese alliance, which would present a serious threat for U.S. positions? At that point, it may suddenly turn out that a free Ukraine is not such an absolute value for the West after all.

Fyodor Lukyanov is chairman of the board of the Foreign and Defense Policy Council. This op-ed has been abridged from the original, which was published in Russian in Kommersant

{***Truth or consequences***}

Click to enlarge the image. Drawing by Konstantin Maler

Truth or consequences

Russia may say that it is not afraid of potential Western sanctions, but there are things the West could do that would be damaging to Russia’s economy.

By Vladimir Kolosov, special to RBTH

Optimism about Russia’s ability to survive possible Western sanctions with little effect may be a bit premature. It’s true that broad punitive sanctions against a country that is deeply integrated into the world economy have no precedent.

However, the challenge that Russia has thrown to the geopolitical order that has existed since the breakup of the Soviet Union is a critical one, and is certain to become a factor in galvanizing the West.

In all likelihood, Russia will not start feeling the consequences of the sanctions right away: the most serious measures will take a while and will cost the West a lot. As they did in the 1980s, the United States and its allies will seek to lower global prices for oil, gas and other commodities.

This will be in line with current trends in developed economies, which are seeking to reduced reliance on fossil fuels and diversify energy supplies. The EU will speed up its efforts to find alternative oil and gas suppliers and build terminals for receiving LNG tankers from the United States, North Africa and other regions.

Additionally, non-energy-related spheres, such as arms exports and science and technology cooperation (including the construction of foreign nuclear power plants), will also be affected.

Russia should expect Western governments to start putting pressure on their existing and potential Russian partners in these fields.

The same is true for large investment projects of leading Western companies: they may have to be abandoned for a long time.

Changes in visa policy – both bans on officials and changes that will make the procedures far more complicated – would affect not only officials but ordinary Russians, too.

Finally, switching Russia's focus to Asia will be a difficult and costly thing to pull off. In order to considerably expand oil and gas exports to China and other Asia-Pacific countries, infrastructure must be developed, which would require enormous investment.

Russia should be prepared for all these consequences.

Vladimir Kolosov is a professor and head of the Geopolitical Studies Center at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Geography.

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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