Simferopol on the Hudson

International fulminating over Russia’s takeover of Crimea brings to mind a scene in Woody Allen’s film Manhattan. At a cocktail fundraiser in the Museum of Modern Art Sculpture Garden, Allen’s character, Isaac, speaks to one of the pretentious limousine liberal guests.

Issac: Has anybody read that Nazis are gonna march in New Jersey? You know, we should go there, get some guys together. Get some bricks and baseball bats and explain things to ‘em.

Guest: There was this devastating satirical piece on that in the Times.

Isaac: Well, a satirical piece in the Times is one thing, but bricks get right to the point.

Guest: But biting satire is better that physical force.

Isaac: No, physical force is better with Nazis. It’s hard to satirize a guy with shiny boots.

The West’s threats of sanctions and other so-called “dire consequences” against Russia won’t work with a guy like Vladimir Putin, who satirizes himself, toting a rifle through the bush bare chested. Ukraine’s territorial integrity may not be worth a full-scale conflict with Moscow, but only diplomatic and economic sanctions backed with the threat of force, precisely targeted and eminently credible, seem likely to reverse Russia’s blatant land grab.

There is one potential diplomatic solution that has been left unexplored amid the blustering, sprung from Crimea’s flawed referendum on independence or union with Russia. Ukraine and its allies should insist on a fair vote under UN supervision and protection, preceded by the peaceful withdrawal of all troops under UN oversight. That would let the people of Crimea express their real preference, be it union with Ukraine, joining Russia, or becoming independent, in the language of democracy. But a fair vote will only happen with the threat of bricks and bats, the language in which Putin appears far more fluent.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.