By Julie Pace
WASHINGTON: For President Barack Obama, Russia’s aggressive annexation of Crimea is testing central tenets of his foreign policy philosophy: his belief in the power of direct diplomacy, his preference for using economic sanctions as punishment and his inclination to proceed cautiously in order to avoid creating larger long-term problems.
The question facing the White House is whether actions that have done little to stop Russia from claiming Crimea are tough enough to stop further escalations. And if they continue to prove insufficient, what else is Obama willing to do to change Vladimir Putin’s calculus?
The menu of additional options appears limited. The White House says a military response is not being considered, and officials have so far resisted calls to supply Ukraine’s fledgling government with military equipment. Instead, the U.S. is likely to focus on financial assistance to Ukraine and deepening economic sanctions against Russian officials whom the White House deems responsible for the crisis.
White House spokesman Jay Carney vowed Wednesday that “more action will be taken.” He indicated that financial penalties could spread to the Russian arms sector, wealthy oligarchs and additional Kremlin officials.
And Vice President Joe Biden, trying to soothe concerns in nations on Russia’s borders, said in Lithuania that the U.S. will respond to any aggression against its NATO allies. He declared, “We’re in this together with you.”
But thus far, sanctions levied by both the U.S. and the European Union have done little to deter Russian President Putin. Nor have Obama’s direct appeals to Putin in four lengthy phone calls or his efforts to isolate Russia internationally by rallying allies to suspend preparations for the economic summit Putin was scheduled to host this summer.
“We have gotten ourselves backed into a pretty bad corner,” said Rosa Brooks, an international law professor at Georgetown University who served in the Pentagon during Obama’s first term. “Putin quite correctly calculated that there’s really not much we can do.”
Almost every punishment or warning from the United States has been followed by defiance from the Russian leader.
“If you push a spring too hard, at some point it will spring back,” Putin said in a fiery speech Tuesday. “You always need to remember this.”
Administration officials privately acknowledge there is little chance Putin will give up Crimea.