Crimean crisis calls for comprehensive solutions

Global cooperation and action needed to rein in Putin

The crisis in Crimea requires a strong and concerted response from the United States, for the sake of Ukrainians and this nation's foreign policy.

Following violent anti-government protests that erupted after a failed deal in November between Ukraine and the European Union, former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fled Kiev in late February. The pact would have guaranteed closer economic and political ties to the West, and likely would have led to growth for the nation.

Yanukovych's sudden departure followed his rejection of the pact, as he favored closer ties with Russia instead. It was this move that sparked public vitriol. An interim government was installed, but protests continue to wrack the nation's capital.

The focus, however, has changed.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, hostilely disobeying treaties and international law - and apparently hoping to remain on the world's front pages after the beleaguered Sochi Olympics - has sent thousands of forces into Crimea. Crimea is a historically contested southern Ukrainian peninsula with just over half of its population composed of ethnic Russians.

It is these ethnic Russians Putin claims to be "protecting" from Ukraine's interim government.

With Russia's invasion of its former territory - given to the then Soviet Republic of Ukraine in 1954 under Khrushchev - the Western World has looked on, puzzled.

Befuddlement, next to military intervention, is the last response this situation needs now. Clear and certain long-term strategies are already overdue.

The post-9/11 world has provided a lesson in geography and history for Americans. And as fast as Americans punch queries into Google for Georgia, Syria or Crimea, our leaders misstep, act weakly or uncertainly.

Putin's latest foray into meddling with former Soviet states has been met with vague, optimistic plans at best.

Economic and diplomatic sanctions are the most commonly repeated interventions proposed by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, who are working from the erroneous assumption that Putin would be bothered by sanctions from the United States, a minor trading partner, and some bad blood with world leaders.

On the other side of the debate are hawks like Senators Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham, calling for missile defense installations to be erected in Poland and the Czech Republic. The plan looks like something from a Cold War textbook.

Striking the line between appeasement and embroiling the region in an all-out war will likely set both a defining precedent and paradigm for U.S. foreign policy this decade - one already plagued by failures.

This balancing act fell to pieces in Syria, ironically until Putin intervened, and may prove beyond the capabilities of this president. But then it did evade the grasp of former President Bush when the Russo-Georgian War erupted in 2008 (coincidently also in Olympic season -the Beijing Summer Games).

Bush's soft approach did little to persuade then Prime Minister Putin to pull back, and Obama's election ended sanctions in favor of thawing relations with the aspiring czar. Russia has yet to fully honor the cease-fire it signed then.

This situation calls for a comprehensive response to the despotic Putin -a unified front that breaks away from constant, short-term, ad hoc diplomatic sanctions. Slaps on the wrist are not diplomacy; they are enablement.

Making Crimea de facto property of Russia will be nothing short of a boon to Putin's reputation, historical image and ego. The latter is the most dangerous.

The United States and international community must react with a long-term plan to dissuade these actions in the future. Impose sanctions until certain conditions are met. Inflict isolation from the G8 and similar groups until some vestiges of democracy return to Russia. Cut economic ties, in cooperation with nations like Germany, upon which Russia is actually dependent.

Putin remarked, prior to this latest crisis: "Anyone who doesn't regret the passing of the Soviet Union has no heart. Anyone who wants it restored has no brains."

Putin certainly does not expect a resurrection of the USSR, but he likely wants a legacy that includes reclaiming former Russian-held lands. Dissuading this poorly vetted, foolhardy plot requires long-term, cooperative solutions.

The time for United States unilateralism and reactionary geopolitical strategies is over - the world, and this crisis, are too complex for that.