The annexation of Crimea by Russia is nearly complete, with fewer useful options for the United States.
With a claimed turnout at the polls of up to 80 percent, a claimed 97 percent of Crimeans who voted on Sunday supported union with Russia. On Tuesday, President Vladimir V. Putin signed a treaty to reincorporate Crimea into Russia, reversing the 1954 turnover by the Soviet Union of the peninsula to Ukraine. The treaty requires legislative approval, which is expected.
He also provided assurances that Russia had no designs on the rest of Ukraine, including the eastern part bordering on Russia, in principle relieving concerns of neighboring former Soviet republics and Warsaw Pact client states as well as NATO and the United States about Russian expansionism.
Putin also stated categorical guarantees of the rights of ethnic minorities in Crimea, particularly the Tatars, who account for 15 percent of the population and have concerns dating from Stalin’s time about how they will fare under a Russian rather than a Ukrainian government in Crimea.
President Barack Obama announced retaliatory economic and financial sanctions against Russian and Ukrainian political figures on Monday. European Union foreign ministers said they would follow suit with a collection of asset freezes and travel bans. Putin and other Russian leaders have scoffed at the measures.
So far neither the Russians’ provocative massing of troops on the Ukraine border nor the United States’ military exercises in neighboring countries Poland, Romania and the Baltic states has led to direct U.S.-Russian conflict, although the risk remains.
Also, so far, the moves and counter-moves between the Russians and the Western allies have not damaged the unity they have shown in dealing with Iran in the talks that resumed Monday in Vienna on bridling Iran’s nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions.
On balance, the sensible approach for the United States in its relations with Russia over Ukraine, Iran and Syria is to ease away from conflict and build on earlier cooperation to find common ground. Peace and resolution of these difficult international problems call for such an approach rather than for more nationalistic braying.