One could argue that until now President Barack Obama has not been forced to face a major foreign policy crisis. One could argue that the foreign policy crises he did face – for example, in Syria – he was able ultimately to skirt, in the case of Syria, ironically, by striking a deal (on chemical weapons) with the devil, that is, with President Vladimir Putin.
However those days might now be over. The surly statement made this morning by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, in the immediate aftermath of the closing of the Olympics in Sochi, might be the opening salvo in a contest between East and West, between Russia on the one hand and the U.S. and Europe Union on the other, that takes us back literally to the days of the Cold War.
Let’s be clear: for various historical and contemporaneous reasons Russia’s stake in Ukraine is huge. And, let’s be equally clear: for various historical and contemporaneous reasons Europe and America’s stake in Ukraine is similarly huge. It will therefore require restraint on Russia’s side to prevent this crisis from escalating further. And it will therefore require activism on the part of the West, by the US in particular, to preclude the possibility that Russia has its way with the former Soviet Socialist Republic. Trouble is that restraint is not Putin’s strong suit. Trouble is that activism in international affairs is not Obama’s.