Starting with the premise that I don’t really know much about the history and specificities of Ukraine and Crimea, I think the current crisis is a major test for America – Europe, we know, has long been taken for granted and doesn’t have any “superpower” status, not anymore. In a multipolar world, Putin is saying “I am strong, come and get me” and he is strong and it is going to be very difficult to go and get him without major trouble. Obama has maintained a relatively low-key profile – compared to the previous U.S. Presidents, that is – in the last foreign policy (non)interventions, see ambiguous positions on Egypt or even Syria. My hope is that Obama’s silent shift to non-interventionism continues and becomes a clearer stance, rather than giving in to the hawks. Having said this, the situation can escalate quite easily.
Beyond the rational planning and chess game of superpowers, it would take as little as a few Ukrainians immolating themselves as patriots in Crimea to produce a domino effect. What’s clear is that we are in a situation where international alliances are ambivalent and shifting, and spontaneous unrest and glitches in the “system” could easily lead to unwanted unplanned disastrous consequences (perhaps not so far-fetched scenarios of World War III).
For those who ask “should intervention by NATO and the West be on the agenda if the situation escalates?”, the answer without a doubt should be “NO!”. The question here is not siding with Russian propaganda or U.S./NATO/EU propaganda. It is not a matter of rights and wrongs in the abstract realm of ideology. It is instead about the very real risk that the situation will quickly spiral out of control in a world without clear hegemonic powers that can outdo anybody else, with masses of people hit by a predicament of increasing inequality and poverty ready to channel their discontent at something or someone. When such risks are real, as they are now, the best strategy is de-escalation, no matter what. It is the most principled stand given the potentially catastrophic consequences of intervention.