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First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross

Jax Political Strategist: 'Significant International Pressure' Needed For Ukraine Resolution

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A local political strategist with extensive experience in Ukraine says the way the current crisis there is resolved will dictate the political configuration in Europe for the next 50 years.Early Monday morning, Russian forces raided a Ukrainian naval base, outmatching the surprised sailors inside without firing a shot. The seizure was just the latest in a series of escalations as Russian tightens its grip on Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that the Kremlin is pushing toward secession from Ukraine.

As Western forces try to defuse the crisis, Russia is asserting that it will not accept a Western-backed government in Ukraine.

The United States and its allies have joined the Ukrainian government in declaring the Russian occupation of Crimea illegal and a Kremlin-backed referendum on whether Crimea should secede and seek to join Russia, set for Sunday, unconstitutional and nonbinding.

Bruce Barcelo, political consultant and principal of Barcelo & Company in Jacksonville, has visited Ukraine several times over the past 15 years. He joined Melissa Ross to discuss the geopolitical implications of the struggle in Ukraine.

"Most Ukranians really want to have good relations with the west and good relations with the east, and they can't figure out why having good relations with the west means they can't have good relations with Moscow," Barcelo said.

The failing Russian economy, Barcelo said, is driving Vladimir Putin to exert more control over territory.

Crimea is of key importance for Russia because of it's position as a foothold in the mineral and other resources of the Black Sea region with the warm water port of Odessa at it's center.

"Our response has been muted publicly... but we haven't done much yet," Barcelo said when asked what resources the U.S. can bring to bear to address the crisis.

Barcelo framed the conflict as economic, identifying natural gas a political weapon and oil as an economic weapon being used by Putin to exert and extend influence.

"It's all about energy right now, and energy equals money, and the flow of energy equals power," he said, noting that the economy of Europe depends in large part on Russian resources.

"While we're trying to build an economic consensus, we  still have to take care of the economic realities that face Europe," he said.

The situation was addressed today in an op-ed published in the Washington Post written by former Secretary of State Condolezza Rice. In her piece, Rice says that the power vacuum left by the edroding international standing of the U.S. has been filled by extremists, from Putin in Russia to al-Qaeda in Iraq and Syria.

"I agree with her," Barcelo said. "American policy over the last five years has softened and retrenched."

"I think everybody agrees that we don't have to be the policemen of the world, but at the same time somebody has to stop naked aggression."

Barcelo said that, based on his experience speaking to both those in Ukraine and Ukrainians who emigrated to the United States, he doesn't think Vladimir Putin could successfully hold the country.

"Do I think it's possible to deescalate, yes I do," Barcelo said. "Do I think it's possible that an accommodation that can be worked out where Crimea, which is already an autonomous region of Ukraine, could be somehow made more autonomous, sure."

"But that's going to take significant international pressure and it's up to us to lead that if we choose to."

You can follow Melissa Ross on Twitter @MelissainJax.