As the Kremlin gives the green light to the deployment of Russian troops in Crimea, Russian experts and former U.S. ambassadors express their concern over the long-term consequences of the conflict on both global stability and Russia’s image abroad. 


Ukraine's military deployed in the city of Sevastopol, located on the Black Sea coast of the Crimean Peninsula  Photo: RIA Novosti / Andrey Stenin

The unanimous endorsement by Russia’s Federation Council of President Vladimir Putin’s request to send armed forces into Ukraine has fueled tensions in the region and threatened to further damage Russia’s already controversial image abroad.

Although Putin has described this decision as an attempt to respond to a direct threat both to the lives of Russians living in Ukraine and to military forces in Ukraine’s southern peninsula of Crimea, the Federation Council’s move brought about an explosive effect and led to U.S. President Barack Obama making a lengthy phone call to Putin from the White House.

According to the website of the White House, the Russian and U.S. leaders talked for 90 minutes after the Federation Council took its decision to approve Putin’s request to deploy troops in Ukraine.

“President Obama expressed his deep concern over Russia’s clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, which is a breach of international law,” the White House said while condemning “Russia’s military intervention into Ukrainian territory” and calling on Russia to de-escalate tensions “by withdrawing its forces back to bases in Crimea and to refrain from any interference elsewhere in Ukraine.”

At the same time, the U. S. reiterated its threats to suspend its upcoming participation in the G8 preparatory meetings and has warned Russia of the danger of greater political and economic isolation.

Meanwhile, Andrey V. Kortunov, President of the New Eurasia Foundation and the General Director of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), agrees that Russia’s stance on Ukraine may result in a great deal of criticism from the West and complicate the relations with the world.

According to him, if the conflict is resolved peacefully, there will be no significant consequences for Russia's reputation abroad. If it turns into another violent face-off, the implications will be far graver than in 2008, when the image of Russia was severely dented during the Russo-Georgian conflict.  

At the same time, he stressed that there is no reason to draw a direct analogy with the five-day war in Georgia in 2008, because such a comparison is relative and does not take into account today's reality. At present it is difficult to imagine Ukraine's current leadership being able to conduct any coherent campaign and policy, he said.

"Today Russia is sending a serious signal to Ukraine, Crimea and to the world that it has created legislative preconditions, and that if necessary, it will act decisively," he told Russia Direct, adding that Russia's stance indicates that Moscow is frustrated with the current unrest in Ukraine and that it does not recognize the legitimacy of the country’s new Maidan leadership.

Moscow Carnegie Center Director Dmitry Trenin argues that "the Crimea/Ukraine crisis is likely to be far worse, and longer-lasting, than the Georgia war." According to him, this crisis points to the failure of the post-Cold War order in Europe.

"For 22 years, Ukraine has been successfully avoiding hard choices, while Russia and the West have failed to establish a solid inclusive relationship within a common Euro-Atlantic space," he told Russia Direct. "Like with the two world wars, a failure to resolve fundamental issues leads to a new crisis. Like with the two world wars, we may have to go through two cold wars."

Former U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union Jack Matlock sees the move by Russian authorities as a signal that “they will not be deterred by the United States from doing what they consider necessary to secure their interests in the neighborhood.”

According to Matlock,  “the mutual accusations, the knee-jerk speculation, and—not least—the hysterical language of some observers, bordering on the apocalyptic” may only aggravate the situation and result in further escalations. He calls to “bear in mind the historical, geographic, political and psychological factors at play in these dramatic events.”

“The view of most of the media, whether Russian or Western, seems to be that one side or the other is going to “win” or “lose” Ukraine,” he wrote in his blog “Ukraine: The Price of Internal Division”. “I believe that is fundamentally mistaken. If I were Ukrainian I would echo the immortal words of the late Walt Kelly’s Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Meanwhile, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul expressed his concern about the long-term consequences the Kremlin’s decision to approve the deployment of troops in Crimea may have for Moscow’s image. 

“Hard to believe that most Russians want to see their country and themselves isolated again as a result of Putin's decision to invade Ukraine. Hope pragmatic leaders in Russia are thinking about the long-term economic consequences of such actions,” he wrote in a Facebook post.