U.S. and EU react to Russian vote on military force

March 1, 2014 at 5:00 PM EDT
After a week of heightened tension in Ukraine, the Russian parliament voted unanimously on Saturday to use military force in Ukraine’s eastern region of Crimea. How will this development affect the ongoing crisis in Ukraine? Hari Sreenivasan speaks with Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations about Russia’s activity in Crimea and how the U.S. and EU are reacting.

HARI SREENIVASAN: For more about the rapidly unfolding events in Russia and Ukraine, we are joined now from Washington by Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations. So tell us, what is this vote in the Russian parliament mean today?

CHARLES KUPCHAN: Well the vote basically authorized Russia to use force in Ukraine. it appears that it’s happened after the fact, in the sense that over the last 24 hours we have reports of troop movements; of Russians moving from Russia proper into Crimea. The Russians are saying that thats occurring under the pretext of the troops that are already there and so that’s a large contingent, some 15,000. But it looks pretty clear that they’re doing more than just rotating troops. Those troops have been out in the field. And the Russian parliament has also called for the withdrawal of its ambassador in the United States in response to the speech that Obama gave yesterday. So, clearly, the temperature is rapidly rising and Russia seems to want to escalate the situation, not to back down.

HARI SREENIVASAN: But what about the possible EU response? They’re scheduled to have more crisis talks the second time in a couple of weeks. What can they do?

CHARLES KUPCHAN: Well, they’re really moving I think on two fronts. One is to move as quickly as possible on putting together some kind of economic package because Ukraine is teetering on the edge of default, and the United States, the EU and the IMF are working together to come up with a package; maybe as high as $15 billion dollars. That’s what the Russians initially offered to Yanukovych, he accepted, that’s when these protests began and toppled him. And the second conversation, which I’m guessing is taking place as we speak, is one about a response to what has occurred. President Obama said yesterday “there will be costs,” and it looks like Russia is throwing down the gauntlet, is using military force, wants to try and separate Crimea to stir up trouble. And so the U.S. and the EU will be talking about what can we do to say to Russia ‘this is unacceptable.’

HARI SREENIVASAN: What are the U.S. options? What does President Obama have?

CHARLES KUPCHAN: Well I’d say there are three arrows in the quiver. The first kind of response would be diplomatic and that would be to say we’re going to perhaps withdraw ambassadors from Europe and the U.S., those that are in Moscow. It could involve a cancellation of the G8 summit which is scheduled in Sochi in about two months. It could also involve a suspension of Russian membership in the G8. Moving up the ladder would be sanctions of one sort, economic sanctions, freezing assets, denying visas to Russian individuals that are deemed to be involved in the trouble in Ukraine. And finally, I’m guessing that there is also a conversation about some kind of military response. Certainly it will not focus on a military response in Ukraine, but it’s conceivable that if this situation continues to escalate that we could see NATO deployed troops in Poland, in the Baltics; that is to say to fortify the eastern frontier.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So will any of these actions, these possible actions that you outlined, be a deterrent on Putin?

CHARLES KUPCHAN: I don’t think that they will be a deterrent in the sense that we are moving very, very rapidly forward. Russia seems to be doing whatever it can to stir up trouble. One huge question that looms on the horizon is, is Russia going to interfere, not just in the Crimea but in the Eastern Oblast, the eastern states of Ukraine where you have about 40 percent of the population being ethnic Russians. were that to happen it’s conceivable that we could see this widen into a civil war between a Europe oriented, western Ukraine and a Russia oriented, eastern Ukraine.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Charles Kupchan joining us from Washington from the Council on Foreign Relations. Thanks so much.