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Ukraine

Opinion: Preventing the worst

Europe has been acting unanimously when it comes to the crisis in Crimea. But DW's Bernd Riegert wonders if that will suffice to impress Russia or if giving in is the better way to go.

According to the European Union, it can be hailed a success that its member states managed to speak with one voice after the emergency summit on Ukraine. However, some heads of government in Central and Eastern Europe whose countries are close to Ukraine's borders or used to be Soviet satellite states had preferred a tougher stance towards Russia. Germany and the UK grudgingly agreed to threaten Russia with sanctions. They were meeting halfway - now, their decision is set, but it has no due date attached to it. There is plenty of room for diplomacy. And that's a good thing.

The EU has yet to manage its balancing act: to maintain Ukraine's independence, get Russia to pull out and by no means reach the final stage of a military conflict. That is only going to work if the EU and the US work hand in hand. There are plenty of doubts if this is going to work since US President Barack Obama had already imposed sanctions while Europe was still in the process of debating that move.

These sanctions aren't going to hurt - yet

The EU has now entered the first level of escalation. I'm afraid this is not going to be enough to make Russia and President Vladimir Putin change course. Putin is not running out of options anytime soon. While the European heads of government were convening, news trickled in that the Russian Parliament facilitated the affiliation or accession of breakaway territories. The EU's decision will have to quickly include drastic economic sanctions to hit Putin where it hurts the most: in his wallet.

While the EU doesn't want to specify economic sanctions yet, the US has been suggesting looking into possibilities to increase the delivery of liquid gas to Europe to make the bloc independent from Russian exports.

The EU hopes the Russian side is going to agree to rounds of negotiations of any kind whatsoever in order to achieve a diplomatic solution. That's going to be hard since Russia doesn't acknowledge Ukraine's government. It's going to be hard since Russia - strangely enough - still denies having deployed troops to Crimea.

Putin is going to test the determination and credibility of the West a little while longer. After the referendum in Crimea in mid-March, he is probably going to comply with the "desire" of the Russian-controlled Crimean government and agree to take on the peninsula as a means of protection.

I'm afraid Crimea as part of Ukraine has been lost at this point. It's now about preventing Ukraine from splitting into a pro-European West and pro-Russian East. The conflict in Crimea is going to remain unresolved for years. There are multiple conflicts in Europe that linger on in this way, such as Cyprus, Kosovo, Abkhazia and Ossetia. Circumstances are of course different, but diplomats managed somehow to contain these conflicts to make them manageable.

Giving in might be the way to go

The situation in Crimea would only change if Western states opted to send troops on a grand scale. But no one wants to risk a direct passage of arms with a nuclear power like Russia. That of course is not news to Putin - that's why he can relax, sit back and watch emergency summits and stern statements from afar.

I myself have experienced the Cold War - its bloc mentality which paralyzed everything and dictated the way how the world was perceived. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, people in Europe had hoped the Cold War was over. It really got me thinking how quickly we are resorting back to those times.

It's not just about Crimea; we are in the middle of a European crisis - maybe one of the worst in decades. This new confrontation could have global implications, since Russia, the US and the EU should be working hand in hand to solve issues like Iran's nuclear program, the war in Syria and decide on how to contain North Korea.

Is it really possible that the hands of time were turned back 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall geopolitically speaking? No, the Europeans should bring themselves to massage Putin's ego by inviting him to a super summit to debate the conflict in Crimea as well as Ukraine's future. Giving in might be the only way to prevent worse consequences from happening.

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