Great Britain warned the Russian government not to intervene in Ukraine, although such a turn of events doesn’t seem likely as long as the pro-Moscow east grudgingly accepts the new situation in Kiev. But as Anshel Pfeffer writing in Haaretz points out, Putin has a few aces up his sleeve that he can play to influence events in Ukraine.
Putin will use all his levers – the Russian army and navy stationed on Ukrainian soil; his control of the country’s economy and its energy supplies; the Russian television channels that are popular also in Ukraine; and historical memories. The 2008 precedent of Georgia, where Putin took advantage of the Abkhazian region’s independence demands to launch a war and humiliate the recalcitrant Georgians by advancing without opposition to within 40 kilometers of Tbilisi, has not been forgotten.
The Kremlin has suffered a setback with the (at least temporary) loss of Kiev, but Putin cannot allow himself to give up on Ukraine. If his allies lose there, the downtrodden opposition within Russia will receive a massive boost and once again take to the streets challenging his rule.
Putin would suffer tremendous consequences abroad if he loosed the Russian army on Ukraine. His recent successes in Syria, Iran, and the Olympics would be washed away and Russia would lose some of the prestige that Putin has so carefully amassed over the past few years. Dare he risk it? The Russian Black Sea Fleet is based in Sevastopol, and yesterday, thousands of pro-Moscow protestors poured into the streets to demonstrate against the events in Kiev. What with the other levers Putin has at his disposal — including the energy card he has shown no reluctance to use in the past — it seems likely that Putin won’t have to invade to get what he wants.