It’s essential President Obama and other Western leaders don’t give this bully an opening. Action — not rainbows-and-butterfly rhetoric — is necessary.
Putin is one of those tough guys who only respects other tough guys. While the Russian leadership manufactured this crisis, the West must not roll over like a kitten. More than the future of Ukraine hangs in the balance. So does the balance of world power.
This is a critical time in history. Putin has already outmaneuvered President Obama on the Syrian crisis. If the U.S. and its allies are perceived as all bluster and no action on Ukraine, it will embolden Russian aggressiveness toward other former members of the Soviet bloc Moscow covets.
Iran is sure to have second thoughts about dismantling its nuclear program. China will be encouraged to play a stronger hand in the Far East.
Much stronger steps are necessary to force the Russian bear back into his cage. First, the U.S. and the European Union must consider strong economic sanctions. Russia’s economy depends on the West as a lifeline. Even the threat of retaliation for the Crimean seizure is taking a toll on the value of Russia’s ruble, which is dropping like a stone. Moscow may have more boots on the ground in that region. But tightening the squeeze on banks and trade will turn up the heat from the ground up on Russia’s leaders.
Militarily, the options are limited. But Obama isn’t powerless and can show that Putin’s bully-boy tactics have consequences. He could order U.S. ships from the Sixth Fleet in Europe into the Black Sea. The Navy’s newest Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS George H.W. Bush, left Norfolk, Va., two weeks ago for the Mediterranean. Send it to the eastern end of that sea and closer to Putin’s neighborhood.
Much is being made of pro-Russian sympathizers in eastern Ukraine and in Crimea, as if that justifies Russian’s belligerence. But these areas supported Ukrainian independence in 1991. Putin knows this. That’s why he’s exploiting the weak government in Kiev and making his move to regain control.
You can’t fault Putin if he views Obama as a pushover. The U.S. president drew a “red line” on Syria. Then he proved he didn’t mean it. Obama asked Russia to return NSA leaker Edward Snowden. Moscow is still chuckling.
Mitt Romney warned on the campaign trail that Putin couldn’t be trusted. Obama mocked his Republican foe for rekindling the Cold War.
The president infamously told a top Russian leader in 2012 that he would have “more flexibility” on missile defense after the presidential election. Moscow licked its chops.
Obama must end his retreat from leadership. European leaders who have more to fear about the Russian bear must join him. Otherwise, the freedom-loving people of Ukraine won’t be the last ones to potentially lose what they hold dear. Instead, they will be the first of many.