The White House conceded Sunday night that Russia had full operational control of the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine, but senior U.S. officials painted the picture of a weak, soft Russian President Vladimir Putin who stood everything to lose from this point.
“This chapter has proven decisively that when it comes to soft power, the power of attraction, Vladimir Putin has no game,” a senior Obama administration official said during a background briefing with reporters Sunday night.
“So he’s left with hard power. And it’s a very dangerous game to play in Ukraine because the Ukrainian people are not going to stand for it, and nor is the international community.”
That was the White House’s argument on Sunday. Though it said that Russia successfully sent in some 6,000 airborne and ground troops into region around Crimea, in what has the potential to be a larger invasion, U.S. officials said it showed a sign of weakness.
Part of their argument was that the entire international community had rallied around the United States and President Barack Obama in promising to punish Russia. Obama spoke separately on Sunday with UK Prime Minister Cameron, Poland President Komorowski, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
During each of those calls, U.S. officials said, Obama underscored the “complete illegitimacy” of the Russian invasion, and discussed possible political and economic repercussions.
Here are of the potential “costs” on the table and steps taken:
- On Sunday night, the leaders of the G-7 countries issued a scathing statement condemning Russia and announcing their plans to suspend participation in the G-8 meetings scheduled in Sochi this June. That includes meetings leading up to the G-8, some of which were scheduled as early as this week.
- A senior administration official said the U.S. is reviewing “all of our economic and trade cooperation with the Russian Federation.” In addition, another official said that the U.S. is speeding up the process of providing economic assistance to Ukraine’s new government.
- The U.S. has canceled a Russian visit to talk about cooperation in international energy markets, and it intends to cancel a naval-themed event.
- The administration plans to coordinate with Congress on potential targeted sanctions, something GOP Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said would be on the table immediately.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State will fly to Kiev on Monday for meetings with Ukraine’s new government on Tuesday, an important sign of solidarity.
The U.S. fundamentally believes that Russia has “badly miscalculated” the Ukraine situation, given the potential for economic sanctions and, one official warned, “isolation.”
But near the end of the conference call, U.S. officials were questioned on the sequence of events that occurred throughout the weekend. On Friday, Obama pronounced from the White House briefing room that there would be “costs” if Russia intervened militarily in Russia. On Saturday, Obama spent about 90 minutes on the phone with Putin, and did not dissuade him from taking military action.
Does that mean Obama is the one with a credibility problem?
“So the premise of your question is that [Putin] is strong and the President of the United States is weak, when, in fact, he is not acting from a position of strength right now. He is acting from a position of having lost the government that they backed in Kyiv and made a play to move in to Crimea, a piece of Ukraine, and being met with international condemnation,” a senior administration official said.
“I think when the President of the United States goes to the briefing room, it’s very important that the world knows where the United States stands, that he lays a predicate, frankly, for what we’re doing now, which is we saw very concerning Russian moves with them moving forces. So when he went out to speak, we had frankly already begun to see things that were concerning to us. That’s why he spoke. And by doing so, he lays a predicate for us to say, ‘We warned you not to do this. Now that you have, we are going to mobilize the international community in response to what you’ve done.’ And that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
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