New Castle News

March 4, 2014

Our Opinion: The West has decisions to make, and Russia may pay price

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Let’s begin by acknowledging that the United States will not be sending troops to Ukraine.

That country — despite an incursion by Russian troops — is not of vital strategic interest to America, and there is no treaty obligation to defend it.

However, the decision by Russian President Vladimir Putin to send troops to the Crimea region of Ukraine is an antagonistic move the West cannot ignore. But is there anything America and its allies can do about it?

Actually, there’s quite a bit that can be done. The larger question is how determined the West is to send a message to Putin and how willing is it to up the ante.

We’re not talking about military action here. But we are talking about steps that could — at least in some ways — revive the Cold War.

Mainly such efforts would involve economic pressure on Russia. Western investment and trade is actively pursued in that country. But if Russia presents itself as an unreliable partner, economic relationships are bound to suffer.

For instance, on Monday alone the major measurement of Russian stock valuations showed a drop of more than 10 percent. While markets around the world suffered because of the Ukraine crisis, the damage was far less elsewhere.

Yet taking a stand economically against Russia carries its risks for western Europe, which gets much of its natural gas from eastern countries. If the diplomatic climate continues to deteriorate, Europe could find itself facing a major energy crisis.

In the short term, there may be little the West can do regarding Ukraine, unless Putin can be persuaded to reverse course. But over the long term, this crisis has the potential to blow up in Russia’s face.

Not only are trade arrangements at stake here, but this incident could prompt western Europe to look elsewhere for its energy needs. That includes the United States.

There are increasing demands in this country to market plentiful shale gas supplies overseas. Plus, the United States isn’t the only place on the planet with these resources that are now available to modern drilling techniques.

A Russia that wishes to play hardball with the international community may find itself isolated in the long term, with crippling economic consequences. Is that the sort of legacy Putin wants?

While the West can accept that Russia has strategic and economic interests in Ukraine — particularly in the Crimean peninsula — those interests need to be addressed in constructive terms. Sending in the troops doesn’t count.

If he is determined to do so, Putin can claim a victory by acting tough in Ukraine, certain the West won’t intervene militarily. But this move runs the risk of taking a heavy toll on his country over time.