By Mick Krever, CNN
Russia’s annexation of Crimea could be just the first move in President Vladimir Putin’s geopolitical chess match with Ukraine, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.
“I think that Crimea is the opening game,” he said. “It is not that President Putin is primarily interested in Crimea. He is interested in Ukraine.”
“If you read carefully what President Putin said in his big speech in the Kremlin the day before yesterday, what he says there about sort of historical claims and those sorts of things, apply not only to Crimea but also to southern parts of Ukraine.”
“That is where we should be extremely alert at the risk of President Putin moving further, even militarily, beyond Crimea.”
And in terms of his play for influence in Ukraine, Bildt thinks Putin’s goals know few bounds.
“I’m pretty convinced that his real agenda is not Crimea, but Kiev.”
“I think he is prepared to use both economic measures, subversion, destabilizing issues, [and] economic issues – but at the end of the day what we have seen during the last few weeks is that he is also prepared to use military instruments. And that is what is scary and what is deeply worrying.”
It may not happen immediately, Bildt said, but Putin is “prepared to play this long.”
U.S. President Barack Obama announced a new round of sanctions Thursday against Russian officials and a Russian bank, designed to hit closer to the ruling elite and Putin himself.
“The second round is going to be significantly more powerful than the first one,” Bildt said. It “hits significant economic interests that are fairly close to the ruling circles in Moscow.”
“It will be noticed.”
And even without the sanctions, Bildt said, Russia will feel the pain of Russia’s actions.
“What is happening now is that we see Russia emerging as an unpredictable power.”
“That’s extremely worrying from a security policy point of view, but also from the business point of view. If there is one thing businessmen want, they want predictability.”
“And now Russia is one of the most unpredictable places that you can find around the world. That’s going to have a significant economic impact over time.”
If sanctions imposed by Europe are to have an impact, countries must be willing to bear the pain of imposing them.
“The energy dependency [on Russia] is significant for certain countries, there’s no question about that. I think you will see that changing, but that will take a couple of years to change.”
Outside of the energy sector, Bildt said that sanctions are much more of an issue for Russia than Europe.
“The European Union is not particularly dependent on Russia. Russia is highly dependent upon the European Union. The cast amount of its exports, its trade is with the European Union. The overwhelming part of the western investment that Russia needs to desperately is coming from the European Union.”
Ultimately, the question for Western powers will be whether their actions are enough to deter Putin.
“I hope that we will be able to deter him. And I hope that he will see there are enormous costs to Russia if he goes to aggression against virtually all of Ukraine. It’s not to be excluded. He has shown that he is willing to do things that most of us didn’t think that he was going to do.”
Amanpour challenged him.
“Hope doesn’t have any battalions, no brigades,” she said. “Am I to understand, is Ukraine to understand, that if President Putin decides to go militarily into Ukraine there is not much anybody can do to stop him?”
“Well in that particular case there would be no question about that. Then you will have very significant sanctions coming. And those sanctions will have a significant destabilizing effect on the Russian economy. Then I think we are entering a completely different ball game.”