Crimea should be part of Russia, but not this way. The invasion of Crimea is the perfect occasion to teach Putin a lesson in humility.
The right and International law are on our side. In fact we have treaty obligations to protect the territorial integrity of Ukraine (though you wouldn’t know it from the US media). So it’s time to act. But what can we do? A lot:
While there is little remaining US ground forces in Europe, we still have the same rapid ability to project air power that we’ve used in other hotspots. With an invitation from the Ukrainian government, we could set up regular air patrols over Ukraine outside Crimea. Do that for a few days, then expand the patrols over Crimea as well. Use drones if we don’t want to send pilots in harm’s way.
Turn some US Navy ships toward the Black Sea. Then turn some more each day from all around the world. Start sending a few ships through the Bosporus into the Black Sea. Then keep sending more, until we have a bigger fleet on the Black Sea than the Russians do. Send submarines, too, to make them really nervous. (Thanks to my friend Rob for the submarine suggestion.)
The air patrols wil need to be flown from US bases in Europe at first, or even from US carriers if we can’t get European permission to fly from our bases there. But the Ukrainians will be happy for us to start flying from their bases, and we can start building up a major US presence there. The more permanent that presence looks, the better. Put up lots of signs in English and give our sector of each airfield an American name, like “William Jefferson Clinton USAF Base”.
Start to bring in troops and tanks through those air bases. Hold joint exercises with the Ukrainian military. At some point along this arc of activity, the Russians will realize they’re driving Ukraine toward military ties with us, and bringing our forces to the Russian doorstep.
And with this going on, we continue diplomacy all the while. Only we’ll increasingly be negotiating from strength, and I bet the negotiations will start to go better. And not only negotiate with the Russians, but also with Ukraine. If and when the Russians back down and leave Crimea, Ukraine should agree to a fair, monitored vote in Crimea on self-determination.
Because, Crimea should be part of Russia. They have a large majority of Russian speakers, they want to be part of Russia, and they used to be part of Russia until an autocratic decision from the Kremlin in 1954. What’s more, Russia will pay a high price to have them, because they will have to negotiate with Ukraine over the water and power that Crimea depends on Ukraine for, while the Tatar minority will be one more ethnic group to be a pain in the Russian butt. On the plus side for Ukraine, the loss of Crimea will make Ukrainian democracy more stable by making it more homogeneously Ukrainian speaking. All this sounds so good, in fact, maybe one or two more Russian-majority states in eastern Ukraine should be given a chance to vote for self-determination.
So let Crimea be part of Russia, but not until we’ve embarrassed Putin. Because nothing hurts a bully and a near-dictator like being embarrassed on the world stage. In the end, this would be good for Russia, too.