Ukraine: US, allied pressure yet to sway Vladimir Putin

US officials say 'significant sanctions' are having an impact on Russia as it tightens its grip on Crimea. But former Defense Secretary Robert Gates says Russia is unlikely to give up its hold.

Konstantin Chernichkin/REUTERS
Pro-Russian demonstrators take part in a rally in Donetsk. Russian forces tightened their grip on Crimea on Sunday despite a US warning to Moscow that annexing the southern Ukrainian region would close the door to diplomacy in a tense East-West standoff.

As Russia tightens its grip on Crimea – bloodlessly, so far – the US is angling for influence in Ukraine as experts and political figures offer advice and comment.

This coming week, Ukrainian interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk will fly to the United States to discuss the crisis.

The purpose of the visit Wednesday, the White House announced Sunday, will be to “discuss how to find a peaceful resolution to Russia’s ongoing military intervention in Crimea that would respect Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
From the point of view of Washington and its European allies trying to dissuade Russian President Vladimir Putin from his military push into the critical Crimean region – leaving Ukrainian military outposts there essentially surrounded – the picture is not improving. So far, threats of diplomatic and economic isolation are not having the desired effect.

Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said "I do not believe that Crimea will slip out of Russia's hands."

"You think Crimea’s gone?" Fox host Chris Wallace asked. "I do," Mr. Gates replied.

Still, said Gates, who began his government service in GOP administrations before continuing as defense secretary under President Obama, harsh Republican criticisms of the White House are out of line.

"Some of the criticism of the president ought to be toned down while he's handling this crisis," Gates said. "After all, Putin invaded Georgia when George W. Bush was president. Nobody ever accused George W. Bush of being weak or being unwilling to use military force."

“I think that even if we had launched attacks in Syria, even if we weren't cutting our defense budget, I think Putin saw an opportunity here in Crimea and he has seized it,” he said. "There really aren't any direct military options.”

But there are indirect military options available to the US and NATO, former defense secretary and former vice president Dick Cheney said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“There are military options that don’t involve putting troops on the ground in Crimea,” Mr. Cheney said. “We could go back and reinstate the ballistic-missile defense program that was taken out, that was originally going to go in Poland and the Czech Republic and Obama took it out to appease Putin.”

Cheney also suggested joint military exercises with Poland and offering military equipment and training to Ukraine.

The effects of nonmilitary options are being seen, US officials insist.

“In coordination with our allies, we've imposed significant sanctions on Russia, and that's already exerting a cost,” deputy national security advisor Tony Blinken said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We've seen Russian markets go down substantially, the ruble go down, and investors sitting on the fence. So Russia’s paying a price for this,” 

A referendum for Crimea to leave Ukraine and join the Russian Federation, organized by pro-Russian members of Crimea’s regional assembly, is scheduled for March 16.

“If there is a referendum and it votes to move Crimea out of Ukraine and to Russia, we won’t recognize it and most of the world won’t either,” Mr. Blinken said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Were that to happen, the isolation of Russia, the cost that it would pay, would increase significantly from where they are now.”

Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin suggests “targeting some of the oligarchs around [Putin] that are his enablers and he is their enablers."

"I do think there are vulnerabilities within Russia that he has politically that can be exploited,” Rep. Ryan said on “Face the Nation.”

Speaking of Putin, retired Marine Corps General James Jones, Obama’s former national security advisor, warns of “precipitous moves that preclude people from being able to step back from it and get to the point where you get boxed in.”

Interviewed by Charlie Rose on CBS, Gen. Jones said: “Mister Putin has to understand that if he doesn't figure a way to get out of this that the long-term consequences for him and for Russia could have serious consequences in terms of the economic relationships and the isolation of Russia with regard to Europe.”

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