Top six reasons why Russia is moving on Crimea, plus one observation:
1) Further erosion of post-Cold War order. The peace in the aftermath of the end of the Cold War has long passed. In fact, the collective memory of the Soviet Era has taken a rosy glow for leaders like Russia president Vladimir Putin who sees it a time when the Russians were potent and respected on the world stage, enough so that regaining some of that lost luster is a priority.
2) Russia understands and is comfortable with hard power, rather than softpower. The West’s rejection/mockery of the Sochi marketing effort no doubt underscores the futility of soft-power to Russia. Russia sees little downside to its action in Crimea. As James Goldgeier writes in the Washington Post, Obama scrapped his summit with Putin not just because of the Snowden affair but because there was “nothing to accomplish at the meeting.”
“Recently, U.S. officials suggested the pursuit of a common economic agenda might help build cooperation between the two countries – further illustrating what little shared interest remains,” he writes.
In other words, Putin sees little of value at risk by his moves in Crimea.
3) With China as a security partner/enabler of Russia, Moscow feels more emboldened to act so long as the Crimea issue can appear to be one of internal significance to Moscow.
4) The outlook for Russia’s economy is worsening because of changes to the global energy market. That is, the shale gas revolution is weakening one lever used consistently by the Russians for influence in Eastern Europe. Better for Russia to act now.
Recall that Russia, a nation of 143 million has a smaller economy than Britain, a place with 63 million people. It’s not so much what Britain is doing right, it’s what Russia consistently does wrong. Russia produces some very smart people- unfortunately, the system in place is far too corrupt for them to thrive and create a growing economy.
5) Obama’s high-minded peace-seeking in a post-Iraq War world affairs probably appears to be weakness to Putin, which is a classic East-West misreading. At the same time, the pervasive fear and paranoia of Moscow has probably been under-appreciated by the West since the end of the Cold War.
6) History and geography. Crimea, although a part of Ukraine, is heavily Russian. Russia, for its part, is always keen to strengthen its grip on neighboring states, following the catastrophic losses it suffered during WWII and WWI.
A final observation for all the concern in the Western media:
China is still a bigger long-term challenge for the US than Russia. The US and Chinese economies are intertwined, even as big differences emerge in the politics of the two nations. Russia, on the the other hand, makes its move in the Crimea not from a position of strength but of weakness.