As far as the Crime of the Crimea is concerned, Vladimir Putin will probably not only get away with it: He’ll come out ahead in the hearts and minds of the Russian voters. He stood up for the poor Russian majority in the Crimea, where they were being harassed by Ukrainian thugs, such as the notorious Svoboda Party skinheads, who are actually part of the government in Kiev.
We are dealing with a part of the world where good guys are few and far between. All the leaders of the Ukraine, including the somewhat cute Yulia Tymoshenko, were corrupt to varying degrees, with the deposed Viktor Yanukovych bidding fair to be the worst. Admittedly, we’re not talking about people who are as bad-ass as Putin himself. (If you want some background about Putin’s crimes, read whatever you can find by Anna Politkovskaya, the Novaya Gazeta reporter who investigated the Chechen War and who Putin had assassinated at the door of her flat.)
If you go back a few years to the Second World War, you will see some strange things happening: there were guerrillas who were simultaneously fighting Hitler and Stalin, and conducting their own pogroms just for fun. (These are the goons who morphed into the Svoboda Party.)
So was it “right” for Russia to annex the Crimea? Strictly speaking, no. But then, the Crimea was a gift to the Ukrainian SSR from Nikita Khrushchev, himself a Ukrainian, some fifty years ago. Before then? It was a part of Russia. Demographically, it’s heavily Russian; so it was perhaps inevitable. But do I think well of Putin for pulling his strong man act? Not really, he is to my mind a contemptible cur, a murderer at arm’s length, and quite possibly a Dick Tracy villain. (But then, that is true of many of our politicians as well, no?)
One final note: Two days of a run-up in the stock markets of Europe and the United States indicates to me that most of the talk about sanctions is pure swamp gas. It would only strengthen Putin.