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By Klaus Larres, Professor, University of North Carolina— Chapel Hill, and Peter Eitsov, Political Analyst
Reviewed by John Handley, Vice President, American Diplomacy

Writing for the March 25 edition of National Interest, Klaus Larres and Peter Eitsov express their concern that the call of the United States and the European Union for swift punishment and humiliation of Putin for Russia’s occupation of Crimea will have no positive effect on changing the occupation of the Crimea and may force Putin into taking even more drastic actions in eastern Ukraine. Germany, under Merkel’s leadership, they believe has a more balanced approach for dealing with Putin and they cite three reasons why Merkel might be more successful than anyone else in convincing Putin to negotiate an end to the crisis. First, Merkel is very cautious and unemotional; second, she witnessed Brant’s policy of Ostpolitik establish rapprochement between the USSR and the West; and third, her knowledge of Russia allows her to see the world through Putin’s eyes. Putin, unfortunately, appears to have a skewed view of the world, especially when it concerns World War II and the Cold War.

The authors believe that Merkel will be able to bring Putin to the negotiation table but only after the U.S. and the EU demonstrate willingness to accept the Russian annexation of the Crimea, regardless of its illegality, as an accomplished fact. In exchange for this recognition, Russia should agree to recognize the independence of Kosovo, help end the civil war in Syria, as well as resolve the Iranian nuclear issue, sign a treaty respecting the Ukraine’s remaining boarders, and agree not to support other pro-Russian separatist tendencies within the region. The authors posit that Merkel can influence Putin to agree to such a negotiated outcome.

Putin, however, is not concerned about punishment or sanctions or implementation of any of the demands from the U.S. or the EU. Putin now has the Crimea. It is not going back to the Ukraine anytime soon. What the Ukraine needs to worry about is its eastern half, which is considerably more closely aligned with Russian interests than those of western Ukraine. Russia largely controls the fate of the Ukraine and most of eastern and western Europe due to the oil and gas dependency of so much of Europe on Russian resources. The U.S. and the EU will probably not get far threatening Russia over Crimea. That much seems certain.

What the authors also seem to discount is that regardless of Merkel’s political skills, getting Putin to agree to anything is moot as long as Russia has the ability to economically blackmail virtually every member of the EU. Russia can threaten to cut off oil and gas supplies to Europe if it deems it is being threatened and Russia can make life financially very difficult for the Ukraine and for many European states by demanding payment for gas and oil already sold to them. For example, the current IMF plan to help the Ukraine recover economically provides less money to the Ukraine than the Ukraine owes Russia for oil and gas already received and used. Threatening Russia only works if the threat is credible, and nothing the U.S. administration has said to date rises to that standard.

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