I am working on a speculative piece about the recent assassination of liberal (i.e. libertarian, a.k.a. internationalist) politician Boris Nemtsov in front of the Kremlin. In the mean time, here is an old comment of mine on Russia’s new grand strategy:
I still think this is all a part of Russia’s symbolic strategy against the West. As you mention, the referendum is not legally binding and nobody aside from Moscow has recognized it.
What I think the best option available to the West would be to go ahead and recognize the independence of regions within Russia’s “official” borders (the territories you mentioned, for example).
To back this up, simply make a mockery of the whole process going on in Crimea. Have a couple of silly press conferences. Then, to add teeth to the recognitions, publicly announce some weapons deals with Georgia and Ukraine. Publicly announce that all Western arms-related bans in the Caucasus are to be repealed.
Then point out, in a rueful manner, that Canada and Mexico are under threat from domestic fascists and must be invaded in order to protect the American citizens and lovers of American citizens in those two countries.
Mocking Russia’s current moves in Crimea will have a much greater impact on policy decisions and public opinion than economic sanctions (which will only make things much, much worse).
Sanctions are a prelude to war.
There is also the issue of secession and political oppression to think about. As it stands, the Crimeans should be able to vote their way out of a political union with Kiev. So, too, should Dagestanis, Chechens, Karelians, etc., be able to vote their way out of a political union with Moscow. The fact that only guns have so far been able to secure a vote in favor of public opinion (Crimean secession from Ukraine) suggests that liberalism has yet to reach enough minds and institutions to have the positive impact that I think it could have on the world.
I also don’t buy the argument, made by some, about the fact that at least one of these oppressed post-socialist, post-Soviet regions was able to secede from a political center it deemed oppressive and should therefore be viewed in a positive light, even if it was Moscow’s guns which brought about the change. To me this line of reasoning is akin to arguing that the US invasion of Iraq was a cautious positive for the world, even though half a million people died due to the invasion, because there is now one less dictator in the world.
Secession needs to be viewed as a legitimate political option for peoples and this recognition needs to be incorporated into the legal systems of liberal societies if we want to avoid more conflicts like the one between Russia and Ukraine. The world is devolving politically, which means secessionist tendencies will increase, and if there is no political or legal mechanism (much less intellectual recognition) for dealing with these aspirations then be prepared for more problems in the post-colonial world (see this and this), but not so much in the West (see this and this). Liberals, of course, have been at the forefront of the secession debate since John Locke first brought it up in his 1689 classic Second Treatise of Government.