Was Crimea Worth It?

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/14):

Was Crimea worth it? [editorial tone – neutral/objective]

Pros
* Secures major Black Sea naval base; Ukraine no longer able to link it to gas discounts.
* Demonstration that Russia still counts to putsch leaders, pro-Russia elements in S/E Ukraine, and the West. From a realist, non-sentimental perspective, it’s better to be feared than laughed at.
* Massive surge in popularity for Putin and national unity.
* Has confirmed a fundamental wedge between the West and the “Rest”/BRICS on global politics. In particular, both China and India have tacitly supported Russia’s position.

Uncertain
* If it succeeds, it will serve as a beocon on the hill for Ukrainians. (In the same way that “free” and “democratic” Ukraine was supposed to serve as a beacon on the hill for Russians tiring of Putin’s authoritarianism, though that didn’t quite work out). If it fails, of course, it will create the opposite effect. But I think the former is likelier than the latter.
* Western sanctions are fairly moderate for now, mostly touching just a part of the elites. Arguably, some of these will actually have positive effects, with Russia forced to accelerate economic ties with East Asia and to lessen its dependence on Western institutions (e.g. a national payments system independent of Visa/Mastercard).

Cons
* Russia loses any talking points it might have had as a strict adherent to international law (but this wasn’t worth much in the first place). Ukrainians have become less positive towards Russia; in particular, support for NATO accession, always low, has recently soared. It’s unclear whether this is temporary or permanent. Considering the economic and political straits Ukraine is in, one strongly suspects that the Crimea/Russia issue will quickly move from the forefront in the next few months.
* Pundits might talk of Russia “winning Crimea, but losing Ukraine.” I disagree. Ukraine, at least as a unitary whole, was lost on February 22.
* Kicked out of G8, freeze on OECD accession, NATO cooperation – negative but of marginal import.
* Deficit territory in fiscal terms (but irrelevant in the big picture).

Overall
I think that this all adds up to a big overall plus. True, assigning different weights to these factors could move it down to a minor plus or a even a neutral position, but I just don’t see how one could possibly pass it off as a strategic error or blunder.

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