Did Russia underestimate Ukraine’s restraint?

Colonel Yuli Mamchor (R), commander of the Ukrainian military garrison at the Belbek airbase, speaks to troops under Russian command occupying the Belbek airbase in Crimea on March 4, 2014 in Lubimovka, Ukraine.
Colonel Yuli Mamchor, right, commander of the Ukrainian military garrison at the Belbek airbase, speaks to troops under Russian command occupying the Belbek airbase in Crimea on Tuesday in Lubimovka, Ukraine.
Credit: Getty Images

In Crimea, Russian soldiers have fired warning shots over the heads of Ukrainian soldiers. Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has held a press conference in Moscow, calling armed conflict a “last resort.” Is the risk of a Crimean war over?

Metro spoke with Jana Kobzova, an associate fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

What was Putin’s goal with the press conference on Tuesday?

He was trying to defuse the situation while leaving all his options open. When all the talk about a Russian ultimatum came, it created much more tension than Putin had expected. Before the ultimatum, the talk was about the G8 and Ukraine’s economic problems; after the ultimatum it was about NATO getting involved. But Putin wasn’t backtracking in the press conference.

Isn’t Putin almost helping his adversaries, given that the world’s attention is now on Crimea, not the new government in Kiev?

Yes, Crimea is taking attention away from the new government’s problems. But remember that the protesters are still there in Kiev. They didn’t just want to change governments; they wanted to change the system. Some members of the new government come from civil society and are respected by Ukrainians, but many ministers are part of the old system. The protesters will keep watching them. But for now, Ukrainians are united against Russia. And it’s amazing how much restraint this young government has exercised against Russia. Russia was hoping for a provocation like what happened in Georgia [in 2008].

So Ukraine’s government is acting more wisely than the Georgian government did five and a half years ago?

Yes. It’s amazing that it hasn’t happened and that the new government has been able to enforce its restraint. That restraint goes all the way down to the Ukrainian soldiers. That’s something the Russians underestimated.


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