How Far Will Vladimir Putin Go?

Russian troops have taken control of Crimea in Ukraine, a forceful indication that President Vladimir Putin would use the Russian Parliament’s approval to use force on the country to escalate the crisis.  Russia has also reportedly invaded Ukraine’s airspace.  But the main question at the moment is how far Putin and Russia will go in Ukraine.

The Ukraine crisis, sparked by the overthrow of the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, has the potential of spiraling out of control.  What started as a Western-backed protest movement morphed into regime change and, now, a dangerous West-East standoff.

Putin is reacting to what he sees as Western interference in a region where Russia should exert its pull.  The pro-Russian troop invasion and demonstrations breaking out in Crimea are his first steps to counter that.  But so far, it’s unclear if the hundreds of thousands of massed Russian troops on the border will march further into Ukraine.  

The Parliament rubber-stamped Putin’s authority to do so, with the justification being ethnic Russians are in danger.  Yet if Russia escalates the crisis, it could mean a number of catastrophic things.  While these are worst-case scenarios, they include:  a Russian occupation of Ukraine; anti-Russian violence and Russian troop reprisals; and the annexation of eastern Ukraine.  

The Western powers have threatened a number of steps in response, though their ability to militarily counter Russia is limited.  Instead, the West is threatening economic and diplomatic sanctions on Russia if Putin doesn’t pull back.  

The future remains up in the air.  Both sides could pull back after negotiations.  But Russia, feeling under siege, could also go in the opposite direction.  Who will blink first?



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