Russian President Vladimir Putin has always been somewhat unpredictable, seldom taking the course that other world leaders would deem only logical. His recent decision to intervene in Crimea and ultimately annex the region therefore, considering the nature of moves that Putin has made in the past, should have come as no surprise. Nevertheless, the brazen act was hard to fathom for many leaders who have come to expect their counterparts, however eccentric, to play within the bounds of certain rules.
Although Putin largely ignored early repercussions, including U.S. sanctions against his inner circle growing in number and severity, the annexation of Crimea is beginning to draw more serious diplomatic responses. The most notable action, taken by the United States and her most powerful allies, was the ejection of Russia from the G8 (now referred to as the G7).
The G8, a group of industrial powers that met regularly to discuss the future of economic issues, does not technically have authority. It is a subset of the nations that compromise the G20, the more inclusive group that seeks cooperation between nations on economic policies. Therefore, exclusion from the G8 does not entirely prevent Russia from influencing the matters that it discusses; nevertheless, it will have a significant impact.
Most immediately, removing Russia from the G8 serves as a diplomatic way of protesting Putin’s recent actions. Although it will not have immediate effects on the Russian economy, ejection from the G8 has importance in its symbolic meaning. It illustrates that the remaining G7 nations (the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan) condemn the military-aided annexation of Crimea and will not support such a violation of the expectations for international conduct. Furthermore, it distances Putin from other leaders and suggests (as his actions already have) that he should not be a representative in a group focused on cooperation between countries.
The decision to remove Russia from future meetings also reinforces the recent approach that the Obama administration has been taking to many international issues, emphasizing long-term, diplomatic consequences over threats of immediate action or military intervention. While the Russian government has downplayed exclusion by the G7, it has undoubtedly lost valuable opportunities to voice its stance on economic issues at a time when the ruble is already suffering. Losing influence in economic matters will only further complicate the challenges that Russia is currently facing.
The G7 has left Russia’s reentry into the group on the table, although only by stopping short of explicitly denying that possibility. In reality, Russia will likely remain alienated from many Western powers for the foreseeable future. Trust has broken down on both sides of the relationship. The United States and her allies have grown weary of Russia’s unpredictable actions and disregard for diplomacy, while Putin continues to reference past injustices that he feels the West has committed against Russia.
The Russian stance on relations with the West could lead to a significant drawback when it comes to the G7 suspending Russia. Putin, a former KGB officer, is largely a product of the Cold War; he feels that his country was slighted by the West and, unfortunately, many Russians agree. The G7 did not become the G8 (by including Russia) until as recently as 1998; although the Cold War had ended and the Soviet Union had become the Russian Federation, it was excluded from G7 negotiations for a number of years. This is one of many Western actions that Russians have viewed as an insult, and the re-formation of the G7 reminds many of their anger over such issues.
In this way, Russia’s exclusion could stir feelings of nationalism and bitterness toward the West, helping to justify the the annexation of Crimea (which was separated from Russia when the Soviet Union was dissolved). Nevertheless, American focus must remain on the long term. Despite its possible downside, the diplomatic action taken against Russia remains highly preferable to a military response; it will simply require more time to be effective. Eventually, Russia will recognize its need (particularly economically) to work with other nations. The resentment that has recently boiled over will be overcome by necessity and present the opportunity for new, diplomatic relations to be formed. Ultimately, the time required for exclusion from the G8 and other sanctions to take effect will be worthwhile, resulting in stronger and more stable relations with Russia in the future.
Acosta, Jim, and Victoria Eastwood. “U.S., Other Powers Kick Russia out of G8.” CNN. Cable News Network, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 24 Mar. 2014. <http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/24/politics/obama-europe-trip/>.