U.S.Secretary of State John Kerry listens to a question from a reporter during a news conference at the U.S. Embassy in Rome March 6, 2014.
On Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that the Kremlin annexing Crimea would “close any available space for diplomacy.”
The warning is disconcerting because there are three general ways that this crisis could play out: Russia keeps advancing into east and south Ukraine, Russia annexes Crimea and then applies further financial and political pressure on the new government in Kiev, or Russia makes limited concessions and the crisis de-escalates.
By Kerry saying that the diplomatic window is closed if Russia annexes Crimea — which is almost a forgone conclusion — then the best path for de-escalation is obstructed.
“We need a de-escalation and that can only happen via talks,” German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, who spoke with Putin in Moscow last week, told Der Spiegel. “It’s not a question now of whether we react in a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ manner; rather we have to act in a clever manner.”
Furthermore, on Sunday U.S. national security official Tony Blinken said that America won’t recognize the March 16 referendum and will increase sanctions on Moscow if and when Crimea secedes.
Meanwhile, experts agree that Vladimir Putin is not going to give up Crimea.
“What’s happened in Crimea is a fait accompli. You aren’t going to get the Russians out of there,” Stephen Larrabee, who specializes in European Security at Rand, told NPR. “I can’t see Putin agreeing to withdraw troops that are already there. It would be losing face with his own public.”
Last week geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer told Business Insider that “Russia is not going to back down from Crimea, irrespective of U.S. pressure,” and that the Obama administration is “going to have to find a way to come to terms with that.”
Given that Kerry says that the diplomatic window would be closed if Crimea joins Russia, it doesn’t sound like the White House has come to terms with what’s happening.
Bremmer said the U.S. ” should be working to get the Ukrainians to accept a referendum on [Crimea] in exchange for Russian recognition of Ukrainian territorial integrity and a process that will lead to the election of a new Ukrainian government.”
On Sunday, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said that “not an inch of land” will be ceded to Russia.
The Kremlin, meanwhile, is already prepared to accept the former Soviet port and current home to its Black Sea fleet. Moscow has not yet officially recognized the Yatsenyuk’s government.
Events on the ground imply further escalation of the crisis, both politically and militarily, which is exacerbated by Kerry’s threat that the diplomatic window is closing as the annexation of Crimea plays out.