Vladimir Putin's foray into Ukraine has to be stopped. If the delusional head of state thinks this will re-establish Russia as a global power, he's wrong. Instead his country will be a pariah, its troubled economy doomed to continue its slide.
But it is not primarily the role of the United States to make that point or to impose consequences. Europe's interests in the future of Ukraine and all of Eastern Europe are direct: It was Ukraine's inclination to join the European Union that started Putin on this course of conflict. What nation might be next on his list?
President Barack Obama should act as a catalyst to organize allies, convene the debate about sanctions and other possible actions — but he should not act alone. Going mano-a-mano with Putin and rattling sabers would be right up the egotistic Russian's alley. It could destroy the chances of a resolution without bloodshed.
Putin needs to see dramatic economic and political repercussions if he persists in his aggression. The costs to Russia of invading eastern Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula have to be far greater than what Putin hopes to gain from Ukraine's economic resources.
Russia's economy seemed to be slowing significantly as the tensions in Ukraine were rising.
Analysts once thought Russia's oil and gas reserves portended a strong economy. The outlook now is more bleak, as Putin's European neighbors begin weaning themselves from dependence on Russian energy exports. This is one reason Ukraine's assets may look attractive to Moscow.
Obama and U.S. allies should build on Secretary of State John Kerry's offer of economic aid to stabilize Ukraine.
Sanctions against Russia are equally important, but the United States is not one of Russia's top 10 trading partners. The president will need to persuade countries that do more business with Russia to push for sanctions.
Europe's close ties to Russia are a double-edged sword. Europe's recovering economy, while moving away from fossil fuels, still depends on Russian energy. And European leaders will be reluctant to take steps that damage their own economies.
The more Ukraine and its neighbors, such as Poland and the Czech Republic, integrate with Europe, the better off the whole continent will be in the long run. But that means standing up to Russia now.
The alternative is returning to a Cold War that pits the interests of Mother Russia and its satellites against the United States and its allies. Nobody wants that. Except, perhaps, Putin, who has called the breakup of the Soviet Union the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century.