Q: Should the US have seen this crisis coming?
A: Nobody could see this coming because Putin took a high-risk action with a low payoff. It’s not typical of other things he’s done. Russia already had a great deal of influence within Ukraine. Ukraine was already heavily dependent on natural gas imports from Russia. It has a treaty that lets Russia rent the naval base at Sevastopol until 2042. Crimea is 58 percent ethnically Russian, and some of the eastern provinces of Ukraine have large ethnic Russian minorities. Ethnic Russians would have had to be represented in any kind of coalition government that emerged from the upcoming May elections anyway. Russia didn’t need to take military action in order to have influence in the area.
Q: Are some of the concerns expressed by Putin legitimate?
A: The transfer of power that happened in Kiev didn’t follow constitutional rules to the letter, because the removal of Yanukovych didn’t follow constitutional procedures. But there is no evidence of any persecution of the ethnic Russian population in Ukraine. Russia has always been afraid of NATO expansion. But in this case, nobody was talking about Ukraine joining NATO anytime soon. NATO isn’t going to take on a new member that has risky conflicts in its own territory. […]
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