International Reaction

The Western reaction to the annexation was not aggressive in a military sense and had an element of “what’s done is done” about it. Nevertheless, it was reasonably robust and united - in the form of condemnation and sanctions - and arguably more so than Putin expected, particularly when strengthened following events in Donbas. The Chinese and other would- be Russian sympathizers, such as members of the BRICS and the Eurasian Economic Union were cautious if not cool (Sherr 2015, p. 15).

Seemingly, Putin misread the international reaction and Russia is suffering greater economic consequences than he anticipated. Such a misreading of the Western reaction was probably caused by a view of the West that Putin had long propagated, that it is weak politically, economically, and morally (Sherr 2015, p. 13). Added to that, in the period leading up to the events in Crimea there had been a lot of publicity in the Russian press regarding the popularity of Putin among European elites and the general population, while the Sochi Olympics - in progress while events in Crimea were unfolding - were presented as a personal global triumph. If such popularity were believed to exist, a vigorous reaction to Crimean events would have seemed unlikely.

It is not hard to believe that this view is a personal one derived by Putin from his background, and reinforced by meetings with Western leaders and the impression he might have gained from reading press summaries of Western political and economic dysfunction. But might he have been reinforced in his views by the small group of cronies with similar backgrounds who surround him? Certainly the expressed views of most of them are aggressively anti-Western, although perhaps with some leaning toward the threat posed by the West rather than its weakness.

These people have access to Putin on a personal basis, and most of them also head important security bodies which have access to considerable analytical capacities in their own right (Sherr 2015, pp. 12, 18; Dneprov 2015). Stanovaia (2016) suggests that their access to Putin is such that he has less capacity to treat the information they provide on its merits than he might himself believe.

In this area of information input the only agency that might be in a position to temper the views of the siloviki is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Minister Lavrov is a member of the Security Council and active in the conduct of Russian foreign policy. The Ministry appears well-placed to have an informed view of foreign capabilities and expectations. However, it is generally not seen as a key player in policy formation. While noting its Moscow-based foreign policy expertise and network of embassies abroad, Vendil Pallin concludes that Lavrov, a career diplomat rather than someone with a silovik background or personal ties to Putin, “probably heads a relatively weak power ministry with little say in policy formulation” (Vendil Pallin 2007, p. 7; Sherr 2015, p. 19).

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