The Russian invasion of Ukraine is an accomplished fact, but many questions remain unanswered regarding the crisis. Perhaps the most important of these are how far Russia will go, what steps the West can take to resist Russian belligerence and what economic consequences will ensue from Russia’s actions.
Thus far, Russian forces have only occupied the Crimean peninsula. While it is possible they will go no farther, it remains unclear under what conditions Russian troops would end their occupation. Moscow might decide to occupy the region for a while simply to pry various concessions from Kiev, such as a pledge to respect the rights of Russian citizens in Ukraine—the declared purpose of Moscow’s military move—or, more ambitiously, to secure guarantees that Ukraine will not join the European Union or NATO. But the Kremlin could best keep Ukraine out of these institutions by occupying Crimea indefinitely, since both institutions normally require that prospective members resolve all their territorial disputes before accession.
Crimea is indeed a distinctive part of Ukraine, with a unique ethnic Russian majority and a special agreement allowing Russia to have a major military base in its main port of Sevastopol. On Monday, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev ordered the building of a bridge that would connect Russian and Ukrainian territory across the roughly 3-mile Strait of Kerch, tightening ties between these border regions. Moscow could follow the same script Russia has employed in Georgia and Moldova, encouraging de facto or de jure independence for a separatist region, or potentially annexing the territory to Russia.