Yesterday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Paris that “when Ukraine restores its sovereignty not over Crimea but over another part of the country, this process [the fulfillment of the Minsk Accords] will be completed,” an indication that one of Vladimir Putin’s main goals in launching his war in Syria is on its way to being achieved.
Merkel’s comment, coming after the “Normandy Four” meeting with Putin and as some are saying she should receive the Nobel Peace Prize for her work on Ukraine, suggests that for all its brave words, the West will ultimately accept the Crimean Anschluss if Putin appears to live up to the Minsk Accords.
Putin clearly went to war in Syria for many reasons: to show his contempt for Barack Obama, to demonstrate that “Russia is back” and can do what it wants, to create a crisis in the Middle East that may push up the price of oil, to save his fellow dictator Bashar Assad, and to distract attention from his policy failures at home and elsewhere.
But as several Russian commentators have pointed out, he also went to war in Syria to force the West to recognize his annexation of Crimea by creating a situation in which he can offer a trade: Russian cooperation with the West’s anti-ISIS effort, however duplicitous he may be about really engaging in that, in exchange for the West’s agreement on Crimea.
Dmitry Travin, a professor of St. Petersburg’s European University, put it bluntly in his analysis of Putin’s moves in New York. The Kremlin leader came to the UN and to his meeting with US President Obama in order to “trade” Syria for Crimea on the basis of the principle “Crimea is ours and we will give you Assad.”
When he didn’t get such a craven deal in New York, Putin launched his attacks on Syria, something Travin anticipated as part of the same process. At some point, when the West recognizes that Russian involvement in Syria will only strengthen ISIS, it will hand Crimea over to Moscow on a plate.
Merkel’s comment shows that Putin may have the West’s number on this issue, given that, as Lithuanian analyst Darius Sadkovski points out today, Syria is “an ideal war” for Putin because Russian involvement will last “only as long as the Kremlin wants it to.”
In many ways, this was the likely outcome as soon as the US and other Western countries refused early on to articulate a serious non-recognition policy about Crimea of the kind that they did regarding Soviet occupation of the Baltic states and allowed themselves to be drawn into a Russian-structured process that ignored the Anschluss or even treated it as a fait accompli.
To suggest that the German leader should be given the Nobel Peace Prize for taking part in this sell-out of Western principles and commitments seems more than a little excessive — although to be sure in the past that prize has been given for even less.