By WILLIAM TAYLOR, STEVEN K. PIFER and JOHN E. HERBST
As the situation in Ukraine has evolved from an internal to an international crisis, Western diplomacy has focused on persuading Moscow to de-escalate tensions. That has made good sense, given the potential for the situation to spin out of control. At the same time, the West should not lose a sense of outrage over Russia’s illegal armed seizure of the Crimean peninsula. The United States and European Union should strive to make the Kremlin’s Crimean venture as expensive as possible.
After former President Victor Yanukovych fled Ukraine in late February and a pro-European acting government took charge in Kiev, Russia moved with stunning swiftness in Crimea. “Little green men” — the Ukrainians’ term for soldiers without identifying insignia, later confirmed by President Vladimir Putin to have been Russian military personnel — quickly occupied strategic points on the peninsula. Days after a hastily organized and flawed referendum produced dubious results, Russia formally annexed Crimea.
Whatever Russia’s historical claim, the seizure of Crimea represents the most blatant military land-grab that Europe has seen since 1945.
Western attention quickly turned elsewhere, however, as armed separatists began seizing buildings in eastern Ukraine, apparently assisted by more little green men. As fighting has increased in recent weeks, Crimea commands less and less attention.