Brookings Scholars on the Ukraine/Crimea Crisis, 3/7/14

Brookings experts continue to offer commentary and recommendations on the unfolding crisis in Ukraine and Crimea. See previous editions of this roundup hereherehere and here.

During a Brookings event today on the crisis, a panel of experts offered their analysis and insights.

Fiona Hill said that “Crimea is the one that got away in the post-Soviet collapse for Russia” and that this situation “is not that much of a surprise for any of us who have been watching things over the last 20 years.”

Steven Pifer pointed to the internal and external actions the government in Kyiv needs to take to stabilize the situation, including getting their government “up and running” and “prepare for a free and fair presidential election” in May. Pifer also cautioned Ukrainian leaders to “keep their military restrained.”

Michael O’Hanlon spoke first to his belief that President Obama should not worry “that this broader cacophony of criticism about his supposedly feckless foreign policy needs to be proven wrong by how he reacts to Ukraine. The stakes are too high,” said O’Hanlon, and “the potential for doing something really wrong is too high if you think in those terms.” O’Hanlon also outlined his views on what military and economic options should be considered, which include not talking about NATO membership for Ukraine but potentially evicting Russia from the G-8.

Full event video is available.

Marvin Kalb calls Putin’s victory in Crimea “Pyrrhic.”


Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, spoke at length on CNN this morning about the latest developments. One of the current issues is the announcement of Crimea’s leadership that, after voting to join Russia, it will have a referendum in Crimea on the question.

I think the decision to go forward with the referendum is unfortunate and it will make it harder to find a solution. And this is something that if the Russians did not want this to happen there would be no referendum. But I think from the beginning there will be some questions about it legitimacy. Already the Crimean Tatar leadership—and the Crimean Tatars are 12 to 15 percent of the population of Crimea—they’ve said they will boycott the referendum. Under Ukrainian law this referendum is in fact illegal. The Crimeans thus far have not been willing to let international monitors into Crimea, so there’s a question, would there be any kind of monitoring of the actual referendum to see if it’s free and fair? So there will be questions about its legitimacy from the beginning. And that coupled with comments out of the Russian legislature that they are looking at legislation that would allow other territories to join Russia I think is going to ratchet up concern in Kyiv that this may be more than just a referendum but a Russian land grab of Crimea.

Watch the full interview below, in which Pifer also says that “Right now the best case that Ukraine can hope for is Crimea stays in some sort of limbo status. I think If Russia moves to annex Crimea it will be very hard for Ukraine to get it back.”

Pifer talked to ABC News on the question of sanctions, and in particular Russia’s gas supplies to Europe:

There is a kind of mutually assured destruction relationship here. Russia could say, ‘Well, we’re going to cut off your gas and you guys can now scramble and buy extra gas and pay big prices.’ It would hurt the Europeans, but it also would cut off the biggest source of cash that flows into Russia today. So the Russians may threaten some things, but they also have to consider that if they do that what it would do to the Russian economy.

Here is some of what scholars are saying on Twitter:

See our research and commentary archive on Ukraine.