In response to Russia’s surprise takeover of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, the Obama administration on Sunday floated an array of punitive measures aimed at isolating Moscow, including economic sanctions and visa bans. Though Secretary of State John Kerry called the Russian incursions a "brazen act of aggression," a senior administration official downplayed the likelihood of a U.S. military intervention, revealing the limits of Washington’s influence over the situation.
The initial warning to Moscow came from Kerry, who warned that Russia could face asset freezes on businesses and expulsion from the Group of 8 industrialized nations. "There could be certainly disruption of any of the normal trade routine," Kerry told NBC. "This is an act of aggression that is completely trumped up in terms of its pretext."
Though Kerry emphasized that "all options are on the table," a senior administration official pushed back against the use of military force in Ukraine in a phone call with reporters. "I don’t think we’re focused right now on the notion of some U.S. military intervention," the official said. "I don’t think, frankly, that would be an effective way to de-escalate the situation."
Thus far, efforts to condemn Russia have relied on soft-power tactics. On Sunday, seven world powers — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States — suspended preparations for the scheduled G-8 summit in a joint statement condemning Russia’s actions. "[W]e have decided for the time being to suspend our participation in activities associated with the preparation of the scheduled G-8 Summit in Sochi in June, until the environment comes back where the G-8 is able to have meaningful discussion," the statement said. It’s unclear how much the event means to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who failed to show up at the 2012 G-8 summit, citing the need to make important cabinet decisions.
During the weekend, Russia’s incursions in the country escalated dramatically, with thousands of Russian forces invading the Crimean peninsula in a bloodless takeover. On Sunday, Russian troops encircled a Ukrainian army base to the fury of U.S. officials: In a 90-minute phone call on Saturday, President Barack Obama had demanded that Putin draw down his forces.
In response to Russia’s troop movements, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk ordered Ukrainian troops to begin mobilizing. "We are on the brink of disaster," he said. "We believe that our Western partners and the entire global community will support the territorial integrity and unity of Ukraine."
Meanwhile, the United States is pushing for officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to earn entry into Ukraine to monitor the conflict in the place of Russian forces. "We will be looking at what we can do immediately to get monitors into eastern Ukraine," said a senior administration official. "The OSCE, as you may know, has a very strong record of providing observation and monitoring in conflict situations." The assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, Victoria Nuland, will be meeting with OSCE officials on Monday, and Kerry will be traveling to Ukraine on Tuesday.