Crimea’s Moscow-backed government voted to secede from Ukraine and join Russia and accelerated a snap referendum to ratify the move, a dramatic escalation of tension that pushed the West closer to imposing sanctions if Russian troops don’t withdraw…

A Russian move to absorb Crimea against the will of Ukraine’s national government would mark the first time since World War II that such a maneuver had been attempted in Europe.

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[T]he post-Cold War may now be seen, in retrospect, as the inter-Cold War period. The recent developments have effectively put an end to the interregnum of partnership and cooperation between the West and Russia that generally prevailed in the quarter-century after the Cold War…

The system had been fraying on its eastern edge for almost as long as it had been in existence, but it took a crisis in Ukraine to lead to its clear breakdown. The successful, Western-supported revolution in Kiev in February fatally undermined the delicate balance in the key state between Russia and the West, leading to domestic turmoil in Ukraine. But perhaps more importantly, it also marks the end of Russia’s post-Soviet passivity. Make no mistake: Putin’s actions in Crimea and the powers he received over the weekend from the Russian parliament — allowing him to using military force in Ukraine writ large — return Moscow as an active player in Europe for the first time since 1989…

This will be the dawn of a new period, reminiscent in some ways of the Cold War from the 1940s to 1980s. Like with the two world wars, the failure to resolve the issues arising out of the imperfect peace settlement and the failure to fully integrate one of the former antagonists into the new system are leading to a new conflict — even if a large-scale war will again be safely avoided. This new conflict is unlikely to be as intense as the first Cold War; it may not last nearly as long; and — crucially — it will not be the defining conflict of our times.

Yet, it will be for real.

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After announcing his sanctions order and condemning a planned Crimean referendum on joining Russia as a violation of both Ukrainian and international law, Obama spoke to Putin on the phone for an hour in his latest outreach to the Russian leader.

But Putin, in a statement Friday, said he and Obama remain far apart on the situation Ukraine, whose new anti-Russian government he accused of making “absolutely illegitimate decisions on the eastern, southeastern and Crimea regions.”

Putin declared: “Russia cannot ignore calls for help, and it acts accordingly, in full compliance with international law.”

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Russia said on Friday any U.S. sanctions imposed against Moscow over the crisis in Ukraine would boomerang back on the United States, raising the financial stakes as the military standoff intensified.

In a telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned against “hasty and reckless steps” that could harm Rssian-American relations, the foreign ministry said.

“Sanctions…would inevitably hit the United States like a boomerang,” it added.

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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is taking advantage of the rift between Russia and the United States over Ukraine to press ahead with plans to crush the rebellion against his rule and secure his reelection for another seven-year term, unencumbered by pressure to compromise with his opponents…

“The regime believes the Russians now have a new and stronger reason to keep Assad in power and support him, especially after the experience of Libya, and now Ukraine,” he said. “In addition, the regime believes that any conflict in the world which distracts the attention of the Americans is a factor which eases pressure on Syria.”…

In a less-noted development in recent months, newly ambivalent U.S. allies such as Egypt and Iraq have been quietly concluding significant arms deals with Moscow, spurred in large part by concerns that the Obama administration’s reluctance to become embroiled in the messy outcomes of the Arab Spring means that Washington can no longer be counted on as a reliable source of support…

“They see Russia as a major current and future partner in the region, because in their perspective, the U.S. is retreating,” he said.

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Obama says Putin is on the wrong side of history, and Secretary of State John Kerry says Putin’s is “really 19th-century behavior in the 21st century.”

This must mean that seeking national power, territory, dominion — the driving impulse of nations since Thucydides — is obsolete. As if a calendar change caused a revolution in human nature that transformed the international arena from a Hobbesian struggle for power into a gentleman’s club where violations of territorial integrity just don’t happen…

How to figure out Obama’s foreign policy? In his first U.N. speech, he says: “No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation.” On what planet?

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There is the question of how to respond practically to Putin’s aggression and there is the question of how to respond intellectually. The latter is no less important than the former, because the Ukrainian crisis is not a transient event but a lasting circumstance with which we will be wrestling for a long time. We must mentally arm ourselves against a reality about which we only recently disarmed ourselves: the reality of protracted conflict. The lack of preparedness at the White House was not merely a weakness of policy but also a weakness of worldview. The president is too often caught off guard by enmity, and by the nastiness of things. There really is no excuse for being surprised by evil. There is also no excuse for projecting one’s good intentions, one’s commitment to reason, one’s optimism about history, upon other individuals and other societies and other countries: narcissism is the enemy of empiricism, and we must perceive differences and threats empirically, lucidly, not with disbelief but with resolve. “Our opinions do not coincide,” Putin said after meeting with Obama last year. The sentence reverberates. That lack of coincidence is now a fact of enormous geopolitical significance. Putin is “in another world,” Merkel recently remarked after a conversation with Putin. But the world is composed of all the worlds, and reality of all the realities. Our minds must make room for them all, not least for purposes of resistance. Rather like Jimmy Carter in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, it is time for Barack Obama to consider revisions and corrections—a reset—of some of his assumptions about history and human behavior, insofar as any assumptions can be clearly imputed to him after these years of lurching from idealism to realism and back…

The legend of the interdependent world is always attended by the legend of the twenty-first century. Obama, the ambassador from the future, long ago decided that the twentieth century was over, and almost recreationally likes to dismiss its relevance to contemporary vexations. We live in a time that prefers the discontinuities of history to its continuities. We cannot get over how unprecedented we are. In this, of course, we resemble the unprecedented generations who came before us and the unprecedented generations who will come after us. This is always a mistake.

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Far from agreeing with the line that he’s fallen into a clever western trap, Putin probably thinks that he’s still got a shaky US administration pretty much where he wants it. Wrecking three western plans for Ukraine in a row has left him with what he probably sees as a stronger position than he had three months ago. He’s blocked his worst case outcome—a united Ukraine moving to the West with the eastern political leadership backing the move. The West is largely stuck with the financial support for Ukraine (meaning that US and EU taxpayers will be paying Ukraine’s back bills to Gazprom and other Russian entities), and now that he has Crimea in hand, the divisions between east and west can be exploited by Russia down the road…

Just as Jimmy Carter did not understand that his human rights advocacy ruined his hopes for a new era of detente and arms negotiations with the Soviet Union, the Obama administration’s policy makers don’t seem seem to understand that their Ukraine policy (which they don’t ever seem to have thought much about one way or the other) contradicted their reset policy in a way that would alienate and enrage the Russians. Now, from the Kremlin’s point of view, it may be the Obama administration that has fallen into a trap. Domestic political pressures are meshing with the President’s own sense of legality and morality in international affairs to push the United States towards trying to make it look as if our sanctions and other responses are imposing. In fact, they will and must be fairly ineffective, and Russia can use its influence over events in Syria and Iran to cause more pain to Obama and more damage to America’s international standing…

There may still be some people in Washington who think Putin has blundered into a weak position, but from Tokyo and Beijing to Teheran and Damascus, Putin is probably looking like a stronger horse today, and Uncle Sam like a weaker one.

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For this he’s been criticized by conservatives like The Washington Post’s Marc Thiessen, who wrote in a Monday column that “Obama’s weakness emboldens Putin.” So far, however, aside from Thiessen and the Sarah Palin types intent on making petty attacks on the president’s machismo, his approach seems to be going pretty well…

Obama, it’s clear, is very willing to sit back and let a larger network of forces take their toll on Russia. He isn’t the first American president to be confronted by provocations and military actions from Moscow but he is, as National Journal noted on Thursday, the first to have a broad range of highly effective nonmilitary responses at his disposal…

Russia is more economically isolated than ever before and that means, despite Putin’s resounding shrug, the country is vulnerable. Russian markets have plummeted since Putin expanded forces into Crimea and the ruble is down more than 8 percent since the beginning of the year.

With numbers like those, Obama is perfectly happy to keep playing the waiting game.

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The Soviet Union didn’t invade Hungary because of President Eisenhower’s weakness, nor Czechoslovakia because of President Johnson’s weakness. Russia didn’t help dismember Moldova because of George H.W. Bush’s weakness or invade Georgia because of George W. Bush’s…

My father grew up in western Ukraine, near Chernivtsi. Our family house was in better shape in the 1930s than it is today. A highway that my grandfather helped build a century ago was barely passable on my last visit. Corruption is far worse today. The entire system has failed, so, of course, western Ukrainians look across the border at a thriving Poland, now firmly embedded in Europe, and see that as a far better model for the future.

Likewise, in a couple of decades, Russians may well look over the border at a thriving, European Ukraine and want that model for themselves as well. So be strong, Senators Graham and McCain: Putin’s advantage is temporary.

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The reality is that Crimea is all but a done deal. Putin saw something he wanted and an opportunity to take it. So he sent in troops and set about establishing that new reality on the ground. The bulk of negotiations in the coming days and weeks will involve Western officials trying to prove that Russia hasn’t gotten the better of them — the “compromise” reached will be almost exactly what Putin wanted all along, in the guise of a diplomatic victory preventing an armed conflict — so they can try to preserve Western credibility. They know they’ll need it for the next crisis that comes along.

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