With The Annexation Of Crimea, Putin Is Testing Us Again — Will The US Rise To The Challenge?

The United States and the European Union is facing one of their greatest foreign policy challenges in decades.

By passing the referendum yesterday and calling for the annexation of Ukraine to the Russian Federation, the voters of Crimea have sent a stark message to the West: put up or shut up.

And in this case, put up means tough military sanctions against Russia. It means sanctions against its political and economic elite, travel bans and limits on the provision of military aid to Ukraine. We also need to authorize the revival of military defense in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Put another way, unless the West takes strong united and concerted action against Russia it is very likely that the Russians, whether now or in the future, will move into Eastern Ukraine.

In a phone conversation with the leader of the Muslim Tatars last week, President Putin made it clear that he did not only consider Ukraine to be a legitimate nation. Indeed, he considers the 1991 annexation of Ukraine at the fall of the Soviet Union to be illegitimate.

Ukraine divided: one scenario

Ukraine divided: one scenario (Photo credit: futureatlas.com)

This way of thinking effectively legitimizes Putin’s incursions into Eastern Ukraine. And though Putin advancing into Western Ukraine is a possibility that few have considered, and which does remain extremely unlikely, we need to consider every possibility.

Relying on thinking and planning based on what we think Putin is doing or would do has gotten us into tremendous trouble in the recent past – not only with Ukraine, but also with Syria and Iran.

The important point here is that Putin is ruling nothing out. And as he rules nothing out, the West needs to consider every possible sanction short of military intervention against the Russian leader.

Today will be a great test to see if, in fact, the EU and the US are serious about the sanctions they have been threatening. Unfortunately, it already looks like the sanctions appear softer and more limited than expected.

As I argued on the Fox Fox Report yesterday with Harris Harris Faulkner with my colleagues Pat Caddell and John LeBoutillier, we have certainly given Putin every advantage here, especially considering the two-week warning on economic sanctions that has allowed Russian elites to move money and prepare.

The implications stretch far beyond Ukraine. Crimea’s annexation could certainly embolden other secessionist movements in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, a situation that we certainly do not want to face.

As David Sanger argues in the New York Times today, President Obama’s strategy of caution is being put to the test. Obama has been frustratingly ineffective, and this may well be his last chance to prove that he has the chops and the strategic mind to be commander in chief.

Read more at Forbes.com