It did not end with Crimea, but then again, nobody thought it would. In the face of further Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, the European Union and the United States should no longer consider financial and political support for the Ukrainian government an option. It’s now a necessity.
NATO, on the other hand, should offer considerable reinforcement of its eastern borders. Despite appearances, these actions would be in the best interest of Russia itself. A clear shift in costs for any further aggression would make more encroachment less likely, thus sparing Moscow the bruising from new brawls.
Russia should still be made to pay more for the damages it has already caused. The punishment should serve as a warning for the future. But any means employed must not escalate the conflict, lest Moscow feel obliged to retaliate.
But believe it or not, there is an existing strategy available that would meet this delicate objective.
A new directive of the European Commission regulating relations between the EU and Israel entered into force Jan. 1. It is based on a rule that the EU does not recognize any occupation, therefore refusing any cooperation with Israeli entities — state-owned or private — that operate in the West Bank.
The EU remained relentless in the face of Jerusalem’s strong protests, explaining that the decision was based on principles and not on anti-Israeli sentiment.
But the same principles did not stop the EU from making a deal with Morocco about fishing in the waters of the occupied Western Sahara. Nor did they keep the EU from founding a representative office in North Cyprus, occupied by Turkey.
At least in the case of the Armenian occupation of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, the EU remained consistent. And so it can with Crimea, a suggestion Poland should make. It could be seen as simply an application of existing, well-known rules — not as an escalation of the conflict.
Simultaneously, there should be a search for EU law firms willing to take suits for compensation filed by private and state Ukrainian entities against Russia. Ukraine is officially estimating its losses at $10 billion in real estate and natural resources. Claims must be made in courts, and the Russian state-owned assets located on EU territory should be confiscated by way of penalty: from bank deposits and export or import goods, planes and ships.
Taking those measures would indeed aggravate relations with Russia, but taking prosecutions to independent courts would simply represent execution of the law.
It is very likely that Moscow will create fictional buffer entities for projects in Crimea, and only a minority of legal cases will end with success. Still, those measures will remind Russians that their actions were illegal. And even if the world did not respond to them with force, it does not mean their actions were forgiven.
Every time the director of a Russian enterprise must decide between investments in Crimea and European programs, each time an Aeroflot pilot entering the European air space worries about losing his plane, Russia will face the price for its lawlessness.
It will not be high, but it will be annoying. Not inevitable, but inevitably present. In the long term, Russians probably don’t want to think of themselves as thieves who managed to escape with the loot.