U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will discuss the situation in Ukraine during a meeting in Paris, marking the first face-to-face meeting between the officials since the Crimean crisis began. The meeting comes soon after reports that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Russian President Vladimir Putin was acting kind of like Hitler, so things could get kind of weird.
The international summit was originally scheduled to discuss Lebanon and Syria's refugee crisis, but is now shifting focus to Ukraine (the meeting has already resulted in a $15 billion pledge from the EU to Ukraine). Russia is also set to meet with NATO on Wednesday in Brussels today.
On Tuesday, Putin continued to send mixed messages on the subject of Russia's presence in Crimea, first saying he sees military action as a last resort in the region, but then spooking the international community by test-firing an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. Now, Russian troops remain in control of Crimea and Putin does not appear poised to pull them out any time soon.
Currently in Crimea, the situation is tense but not violent. According to the Agence-France Presse, soldiers stationed in the area seem uneasy:
Bakhchisaray, about 20 miles southwest of the Crimean capital Simferopol, the mood was relaxed, nonchalant, almost cordial. Two dozen soldiers in camouflage outfits and with Kalashnikovs slung on their shoulders strolled casually about in the street. One played with a dog. Asked by an AFP journalist if he was Russian, the tearful young blue-eyed soldier nodded timidly.
It's not difficult to see why soldiers deployed in Crimea would be confused and nervous, as officials at the top offer conflicting accounts of what is actually going on. Lavrov doesn't refer to those stationed in Crimea as Russian troops but as "self-defense" forces, saying "we give them no orders, they take no orders from us," adding, "as for the military personnel of the (Russian) Black Sea Fleet, they are in their deployment sites. Yes, additional vigilance measures were taken to safeguard the sites... We will do everything not to allow any bloodshed." So we get why the self-defense/military personnel might not totally understand what they are supposed to be doing.
Russian equivocation is leaving global leaders to question their intention of exiting Ukraine, and to consider alternate ways of forcing Russia to back off. French President Francois Hollande was the latest leader to claim that Russia could face sanctions if it doesn't vacate Crimea, saying: "The role of France alongside Europe... is to exert all necessary pressure, including a possible imposition of sanctions, to push for dialogue and seek a political solution to this crisis." Russia said it would retaliate against sanctions, upending the idea of a more cooperative stance.
All of the flip-flopping appears to be getting on the nerves of Western officials. President Barack Obama also appeared to be losing patience with the Russian leader, refuting his claim that it would be legal for Russia to take action in Ukraine, saying "President Putin seems to have a different set of lawyers making a different set of interpretations. But I don't think that's fooling anybody." And Kerry said this week of Putin's justification for intervention, "not a single piece of credible evidence supports any one of these claims."
And former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took the anti-Putin rhetoric even further, according to reports, when she said that Putin's desire to protect Russians in Ukraine reminded her of Germany's push to protect Germans in the 1930s. You know what that means, right? She said on Tuesday, according to the Press-Telegram:
... If this sounds familiar, it’s what Hitler did back in the 30s... All the Germans that were ... the ethnic Germans, the Germans by ancestry who were in places like Czechoslovakia and Romania and other places, Hitler kept saying "they’re not being treated right. I must go and protect my people," and that’s what’s gotten everybody so nervous.
Others have said that the tension in Crimea is reminiscent of non-violent territorial disputes that preceded the Second World War, but no public official has made the comparison quite so explicitly.
Right now, leaders are toying with the idea of an "off-ramp" solution, in which Russia would return its Black Sea Fleet to its bases and international peace-keeping troops would enter the region to protect ethnic Russians.