MOSCOW (AFP) â€“ Russian President Vladimir Putin is seeking to profit to the maximum from Ukraineâ€™s turmoil by implementing the de-facto annexation of Crimea at high speed to wrong foot an indecisive West, analysts said.
The ousting of the generally pro-Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was a major defeat for Putin and means that the ex-Soviet state is now swiftly aligning itself with the European Union in a historic switch away from the Kremlin.
Though Ukraineâ€™s parliament began a procedure to dissolve the regional assembly in Crimea after it asked to join Russia, Ukraineâ€™s interim president Oleksandr Turchynov said Thursday.
â€œThe Rada (parliament in Kiev) will begin the procedure for dissolution,â€ Turchynov said hours after the assembly in the tense peninsula adopted a motion to become part of the Russian Federation.
Also President Barack Obama warned Thursday a referendum in Crimea on joining Russia would violate Ukranian sovereignty and international law.
Obama also said that the United States and its allies were united in standing against Russiaâ€™s incursion into Ukraine, but said a diplomatic solution to the standoff remained possible.
But with Ukraine in chaos under its new pro-Western authorities, Putin is moving to seize Crimea, a region that most Russians believe only ended up in post-USSR Ukraine because of a catastrophic mistake by Nikita Khrushchev to make it part of the Soviet republic of Ukraine.
The Crimean parliament said Thursday it was asking Putin if Crimea could become part of Russia and would put the issue to the people in a hastily brought forward referendum on March 16.
Russiaâ€™s parliament is meanwhile already preparing a bill to ease the process for incorporating part of a foreign state into Russia.
While the initial move has come from the Crimean parliament, few doubt this is a plan by Putin drawn up at breathtaking speed so that Russia can gain some historical profit from the Ukraine crisis.
It is move entirely in character for a strongman leader who famously declared the collapse of the Soviet Union to be the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the twentieth century.
The swoop is unlikely to meet with much opposition in Russian society which remains a hotbed of patriotism and often nostalgic for the projection of Moscow power seen in the Soviet era.
– WHAT IS PUTINâ€™S AIM? –
Putin â€” who has always sought to promote Russiaâ€™s status as a great power in any situation like the Syria conflict â€” wants to show the West that the Kremlin will not leave events like the Ukraine uprising without reaction.
â€œPutin has decided to show that he does not fear the West or sanctions. He has decided to put the West in front of a fait accompli to show his decisiveness,â€ said leading Russian defence commentator Pavel Felgenhauer.
â€œPutin cannot and does not want to take a step backwards, especially as the propaganda campaign in Russia has been ratcheted up so much.â€
Alexei Makarkin of the Centre for Political Technology in Moscow said: â€œThe situation is changing fast â€” what yesterday seemed unthinkable now becomes reality.â€
– HOW FAR WILL PUTIN GO? –
A big question is whether Russia limits itself to just Crimea or also makes a move on eastern Ukraine, which also has Russian-speakers who consider themselves loyal to the Kremlin.
â€œHe is saying that Crimea is ours. Russia is not going to enter the territory of the rest of Ukraine, in as much as Crimea is going to become Russian territory,â€ Makarkin said.
â€œHe is saying give us Crimea and we will not touch the rest. Itâ€™s not going to work (annexing) the east, it would be too dangerous.â€
But Nikolai Petrov, professor at the Higher School of Economics, said the idea of moving into the east of Ukraine was still very much on the table.
â€œPutin wants to consolidate his success and set out the positions for negotiations â€” guaranteed inclusion of Crimea into Russia and control over eastern Ukraine.â€
– WHAT ARE THE RISKS? –
Russia faces unprecedented post-Cold War isolation, sanctions as well as risks to its already fragile economy, with the ruble slumping again on Thursday.
Traditional alliances may be endangered. China, worried about separatism in the Xinjiang region, may not be impressed by such radical moves. Kazakhstan will fret about being lumped with Russia in a Customs Union at such dangerous times.
â€œRussia is going to be in isolation at the UN. Ukraine will not acknowledge the annexation of Crimea and it is possible relations will be cut off,â€ said Makarkin.
Meanwhile Felgenhauer said Russiaâ€™s annexation of Crimea may not prove to be the walk in the park that Russia appears to expect, especially with Crimeaâ€™s Tatar population traditionally loyal to Kiev and hostile to Russian domination.
â€œA partisan war could start in Crimea,â€ he said.