A key player in the crisis in Ukraine is German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She is known to want nothing so much as to avoid international conflict that would in any significant way drag in Germany. So what she did was to pick up the phone and call President Vladimir Putin, twice in recent days, to urge him to play nice.
The connection however must have been poor – for evidence is Putin heard not a syllable she said. Evidence is Merkel’s words fell on deaf ears.
Surprise, surprise! Putin did what some of us predicted he would do: stake his personal and political reputation on refusing to stand by and do nothing while Ukraine slipped into the embrace of the West. As of this morning, thousands of extra troops, presumably Russian, have been sent to Crimea, to make clear that if Kiev continues on its current course, away from the East and toward the West, it will do so without Crimea. It will lead either to a breakup of the Ukrainian state, or to considerable civil strife if not all out civil war, or to some brokered arrangement in which Crimea is given a high degree of autonomy within a larger Ukraine.
The ultimate outcome of this standoff is obviously unclear. What is completely clear is that no amount of ordinary chit chatting will get Putin to stand down. For once, Chancellor Merkel, just like President Obama, will have to get deeply involved and her hands somewhat soiled.