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Putin’s War

Obama had no good options to stop the invasion. In fact, the only mistake the president made was ever suggesting there would be “consequences.”

Author: Fred Kaplan
March 1, 2014


Is the West about to go to war with Russia over the fate of Ukraine? The question should answer itself. I can't imagine many Americans or Europeans willingly spending "blood and treasure" to keep Moscow's mitts off of Kiev and Kviv. So why, then, did President Obama publicly warn Vladimir Putin that armed aggression against Ukraine would lead to "consequences"?

What "consequences" did Obama have in mind? To put it another way, what cache of consequences could the United States fling at Moscow that would make Putin (or any Russian leader) change his behavior, or alter his cost-benefit calculus, when it comes to Ukraine?

Putin may face a bad month or so in the world media—perhaps face some sanctions and other troubles—for moving tanks, planes, and Russia's own brutal brigade of riot police to quash protesters, overthrow parliament, and restore some version of the old regime. But in his mind, that's nothing compared with the prospect of losing Ukraine.

Putin, after all, has lamented the breakup of the Soviet Union as "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the 20th century. He considers Ukraine to be a Russian "territory," not an independent nation (and said so to President George W. Bush in 2008). And the Crimean peninsula, which Nikita Khrushchev ceded to Ukraine in 1954, is Ukrainian in name only, and even then just barely. (Khrushchev didn't quite surrender the land but declared it an autonomous enclave.) The Russian Navy maintains an important fleet there; most of its people speak, and regard themselves as, Russian. In the ongoing crisis, Putin did send troops to seize Crimea—to the complaint of few locals.

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