This far and no further. That is what the world thought of Russia when its troops spilled into Crimea and virtually took over the Black Sea naval post. But no. Russia lingered on in Crimea, giving the peninsula’s ethnic Russian population enough gusto to push through a referendum for Crimea’s secession from Ukraine. The referendum, boycotted by Crimea’s ethnic Ukrainians and Muslim Tartars, has been quickly followed by the adoption of the Russian rouble as Crimea’s second currency and a resolution for Crimea’s return to the Russian federation. There is not a shade of doubt that the Russian Duma will respond positively to what it sees as Crimea’s furtive appeal. The West, particularly the United States of America, which has been banking solely on a sudden failure of Vladimir Putin’s nerves as strategy to contain the Caucasian crisis, has announced diplomatic sanctions against powerful players in Russia. Europe too has been mulling over a diplomatic freeze, but the hope that the world powers are pinning themselves to is, again, that Russia would only go this far and no further; that no matter how furtive the expectations are in eastern Ukraine, Russia would somehow resist the temptation of playing saviour and stop another Cold War from beginning.
Of course, it would be so much simpler if Russia were able to hold itself back. Ukraine could then stave off a split. There would be no fear of Russian vengeance in Poland and Lithuania, no anxiety in Germany or in the former Soviet Baltic states like Latvia over where to source energy from, no need for Europe’s real estate agents to worry about a business downturn and no reason for the Nato powers to reposition their Typhoon jets and warships in the Baltic to guard against Russian aggression. Unfortunately, there now seems to be no one to save the world from Mr Putin except Mr Putin himself. A war-weary US and its allies do not wish to start a military operation, and China, the only nation which could have made a difference in this situation, has decided to watch the show from a distance. China, like India, could be thinking ahead — to be seen on the right side of a self-righteous and assertive East if the world were to divide into two blocs again. But if it is now so easy for any part of any country to declare independence by a referendum and for any outside power to embrace that part as its own, should both China and India not worry?