Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty last Tuesday which will allow Russia to annex the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine. The treaty was passed by an overwhelming majority in Russia’s lower house by a vote of 443 to one last Thursday. Russia’s invasion of Crimea and their proposed annexation of the peninsula has drawn international backlash, for what western leaders are calling a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and a breach of international laws.
Russia’s actions in Crimea have prompted the United States and other western nations to place stricter sanctions on Russia in an attempt to diffuse the situation. The sanctions being put in place by the US target 20 officials who have significant influence within the Russian government as well as a bank, listed by the US Treasury Department as Bank Rossiya, the 17th largest in Russia, which holds important resources and assets. The officials that the US have targeted are people who are close to Putin and have significant influence in the government and in the Russian economy, which has been struggling in recent years. According to the US Treasury, as a result of the sanctions, “any assets of the persons designated today that are within US jurisdiction must be frozen.” The sanctions are likely to have a noticeable impact for the higher-ups in Moscow, but whether or not they will have the intended effect of diffusing the situation is yet to be seen. Moscow responded by placing sanctions of their own on nine US officials, including Speaker of the House John Boehner, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid and Senator John McCain. Leaders of the European Union are meeting in Brussels on Thursday to discuss the crisis and the possibility of imposing stricter sanctions on Russia.
Tensions are running extremely high on the peninsula in the wake of recent events. Supporters of Russia stormed the Ukrainian naval headquarters in Crimea last Wednesday and took Navy Chief Sergey Gaiduk hostage along with several others. They were released the next day but this incident, coupled with the death of a Ukrainian soldier by masked gunmen has resulted in Ukraine’s Defense Ministry authorizing their forces to open fire in self-defense.
The crisis in Ukraine has escalated tensions between Russia and the West to their highest levels since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Western leaders have continuously denounced Russia for continuing to pursue their interests in Ukraine despite warnings and sanctions being placed on them. Russia has reassured Ukraine and the rest of the world that it does not intend to cross the border of Crimea into Ukraine or to take any sort of aggressive action. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is currently in Russia meeting with Vladimir Putin. He will then travel to Kiev to speak with Ukrainian leaders in an effort to lower tensions between the two states and to keep things from getting out of control.