From the Wall Street Journal, Ukraine Region Votes to Join Russia:
American officials realize that they misjudged Mr. Putin and are working to predict his next move, the senior official said. "We have misread Putin. He is not going to give up," the official said.
Obama Forsakes the Rule of Law
If historians bother to study the snowballing disaster that is the Obama Administration all that needs to be done is to insert the name of the problem for the name of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Whether the economy, or Obamacare, or any other issue the sum total of analysis is that they misjudged. They did so out of hubris because on the whole they are a rare collection of mediocrities who are unable to conceive of their own limitations.
The imminent annexation of Crimea from Ukraine will present the United States and the world with an interesting set of facts. Will the new diplomatic order authored by Barack Obama's State Department be one of might makes right, where any nation with sufficient military power is allowed to annex territory from a neighbor based on ethnic composition? Or will it be one where the norms of international behavior discourage marauding warlords?
At this writing, based on the extremely flaccid response by Obama this morning it seems that we are entering into a period of European history which more closely resembles that before the Peace of Westphalia than anything after World War II.
Targeted Sanctions Do Not Work
We have seen how ineffectual so-called "smart sanctions" are. Saddam Hussein's inner circle was with targeted sanctions after the invasion of Kuwait. It still took war to dislodge him. The family of Syrian President Basahar al-Assad has been under sanctions since 2011. He doesn't seem to be moving.
Despite this, the Big Brains® of the Obama administration have decided that is is not sufficient to reinvent the wheel, they must reinvent the flat tire. Via Reuters U.S., EU set sanctions as Putin recognizes Crimea "sovereignty":
A senior U.S. official said Obama's order cleared the way to sanction people associated with the arms industry and targets "the personal wealth of cronies" of the Russian leadership.
In Brussels, the EU's 28 foreign ministers agreed to subject 21 Russian and Ukrainian officials to visa restrictions and asset freezes for their roles in the events. They included three Russian military commanders in Crimea and districts bordering on Ukraine.
In fact, this effort received hoots of derision from the Russians. From ABC News, Russian Deputy PM Laughs at Obama’s Sanctions:
The sanctions freeze any assets under American jurisdiction and prevent American banks from doing business with the named individual, essentially freezing them out of the international banking system. The sanctions also impose a ban on their travel to the United States. Separately, but in coordination with the White House, the European Union announced sanctions today on 21 individuals that it plans to name later. U.S. officials told reporters that the American and European lists “overlapped” in some area, but declined to say how.
While some of the sanctioned officials are bold faced names, the White House move is unlikely to affect Russia’s decision making with regard to Crimea’s bid to join the Russian Federation. Russia’s stock market actually improved on the news that so few officials were included on the list. U.S. officials warned that, if Russia does go ahead with annexation of Crimea, additional penalties will follow, with more, harsher measures to come if Russia attempts to enter eastern Ukraine.
Read that again:
Russia’s stock market actually improved on the news that so few officials were included on the list.
So for stealing an "autonomous republic" 21 Putin cronies are temporarily inconvenienced. I'd say we just taught the Russkies one helluva lesson, didn't we?
Where To From Here?
As the White House has suddenly realized to its discredit, Vladimir Putin has an agenda... one that I might add has been extremely transparent to just about everyone but the foreign policy elites ever since he came on the scene... and he isn't concerned about John Kerry's disapproval of the century to which his methods belong.
We can debate the parallels between Putin's actions and the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia and the anschluss with Austria but what isn't debatable is that Russia's actions are outside the bounds on international behavior. This belated recognition has inspired the White House to yet another too-little-too-late response. Anyone who thinks Putin's ambitions end with this particular Potemkin referendum is simply fooling themselves.