[E]xactly one week later, on Friday, February 28, that euphoria was replaced with the deepest of fears. Vladimir Putin's Russia invaded and occupied Crimea. That was bad enough. Far worse was yet to come. On Saturday, March 1, Putin claimed to have the right to "defend" "Russian citizens" anywhere in Ukraine, thereby giving himself carte blanche to invade any part of Ukraine he chooses. Which province would be next?On Tuesday, March 4, our existential angst got worse. At a revealing press conference, Putin claimed he had the right to go to war with Ukraine in defense of "Ukrainian citizens." Putin also said if he made the decision to go to war, "women and children" would act as a shield for Russian troops.Many Ukrainians in Ukraine now believe that a Russian invasion of mainland Ukraine is inevitable. If it happens, war will break out and thousands will die.Crimea is set to secede in a bogus referendum on March 16. Putin's former economic adviser Andrei Illarionov, who resigned in protest after a bloody hostage crisis, claims Russian armies will march on Kiev.Putin's ideological mentor, Aleksandr Dugin, insists that Russia's goals go beyond Ukraine into Europe -- a reunification of the Slavic peoples. Meanwhile, Russian troops and tanks are massing on Ukraine's borders. Terrified realists that we have become, we suspect the worst: that they will soon be attacking a country that dared say no to Putin.
The U.S. and NATO could stop Russia cold -- on the ground, air and sea. What nobody is saying but everybody is thinking is that any attempt to stop Putin's march into Ukraine could trigger a nuclear war that annihilates mankind.
Hopefully, Putin is just full of bluster, and in the coming days and weeks such fears will seem, in retrospect, silly and unfounded.
By Alexander J. Motyl
March 14, 2014 | CNN