The standoff between Russia, Ukraine, and the West has reached the “eleventh hour,” Andrei Kozyrev, the first post-Soviet Russian foreign minister, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday.

“The [stakes are] still very, very high,” he said. “Let me just remind whoever concerned that Russia is still [a] nuclear superpower. So the [stakes] might be life and death. And maybe sooner than somebody is thinking.”

“It’s [the] eleventh hour for Russians, and for anybody else, to reconsider.”…

In an interview with Amanpour last week, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said that Crimea was just the Russian president’s “opening game.”

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A prominent political ally and advisor to Vladimir Putin has proposed splitting up Ukraine along the lines of an historical pact agreed between the Nazis and Soviet Union.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, widely regarded as a mouthpiece for the Russian president, proposed a redrawing of the borders of western Ukraine – which would involve regions being incorporated into the territories of Poland, Romania and Hungary…

Zhirinovsky wrote: “It’s never too late to correct historical errors.”

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U.S. and Ukrainian officials warned Sunday that Russia may be poised to expand its territorial conquest into eastern Ukraine and beyond, with a senior NATO official saying that Moscow might even order its troops to cross Ukraine to reach Moldova

A drive into Transnistria would mark an extraordinary deepening of Russia’s military thrust into former Soviet territory and sharply escalate tensions with the West. Transnistria, a narrow strip of land about the size of Rhode Island that is wedged between the rest of Moldova and southern Ukraine, proclaimed its independence in 1990. Its population went on to vote in 2006 to seek eventual unification with Russia…

In Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, members of a visiting U.S. congressional delegation said Ukrainian officials were determined to prevent any further Russian incursion into their territory.

“This would be no Crimea,” Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) said at a news conference, adding that Putin would find himself having to explain why young Russian men were coming home in coffins. “Ukraine is ready to fight.”

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[I]t would be wishful thinking to assume that if the crisis over Ukraine continues to deteriorate it will not seep through Russian policy towards the Middle East and affect Iran, primarily because that is where the US would be hurt most…

Experts are most worried about the potential for new Russian arms sales, in particular the long-range S-300 air defence missile system deal that was cancelled in 2010 under American pressure.

“This is the one card that they [the Russians] have,” argues Cliff Kupchan, analyst at Eurasia Group, the risk researchers and consultants. “The S-300 can be a game changer; it would reduce Israel’s ability to attack Iran.”

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[A]dvocates of nuclear disarmament say the new freeze in US-Russian relations was likely to torpedo any hopes that they had of persuading Washington and its Nato allies to withdraw the last US nuclear weapons on European soil, an estimated 150-200 B61 gravity bombs deployed in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Italy and Turkey.

Campaigners have long argued that the B61 bombs are obsolete and their removal would represent a confidence-building gesture to Moscow at no strategic cost, putting pressure on Russia to make a reciprocal reduction in its arsenal of about 2,000 operational tactical warheads. But most now concede that the disarmament lobby’s chance of winning that argument has gone from slim to nonexistent.

“The Ukraine crisis will only amplify voices of those against any move on the B61, from eastern Europe in particular. It will closed down that debate,” said Ian Kearns, the director of the European Leadership Network, a group of former ministers pressing the case for disarmament.

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If driving down energy prices is the West’s long-term strategy for breaking Putin, then the region is key. Iran, holder of the world’s second-largest gas reserves, is a natural competitor to Russia in Europe and could once again be a major oil producer. Sanctions hold it back. The return of Libya’s oil, disproportionately important to global markets because of its high quality, would also help. Sorting out Iran and Libya would add about 2 million barrels per day to the world’s oil supply capacity and defuse some of the risk premium on oil prices. Rising output from Iraq will also loosen the market.

The problem is that Putin knows all this, too. Perhaps better than we do. And the West needs his cooperation to bring some stability to the region. That’s why, if it comes to an energy war with the West, the world’s biggest oil producer will happily watch the Iran talks fail, the Middle East burn and Russia’s crude keep flowing to the world’s needy oil consumers. And Vladimir Putin will be laughing all the way to the bank.

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Presidents tend to think of autocrats like Mr. Putin as fellow statesmen, said Dennis Blair, Mr. Obama’s first director of national intelligence. “They should think of dictators like they think of domestic politicians of the other party,” he said, “opponents who smile on occasion when it suits their purposes, and cooperate when it is to their advantage, but who are at heart trying to push the U.S. out of power, will kneecap the United States if they get the chance and will only go along if the U.S. has more power than they.”…

After 15 years, no one in Washington still thinks of Mr. Putin as a partner. “He goes to bed at night thinking of Peter the Great and he wakes up thinking of Stalin,” Representative Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, said on “Meet the Press” on NBC on Sunday. “We need to understand who he is and what he wants. It may not fit with what we believe of the 21st century.”…

“He’s not delusional, but he’s inhabiting a Russia of the past — a version of the past that he has created,” said Fiona Hill, the top intelligence officer on Russia during Mr. Bush’s presidency and co-author of “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin.” “His present is defined by it and there is no coherent vision of the future. Where exactly does he go from here beyond reasserting and regaining influence over territories and people? Then what?”

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Soviet-American communication was never easy during the Cold War. Yet after the Cuban Missile Crisis it became possible. The U.S., which had refused to recognize the Soviet Union for the first 15 years of its existence, came to appreciate the leverage and security that high-level contact provided, and the Soviet Union had practical needs—for money, for grain—that made the U.S. an attractive partner. By the late 1960s, Soviet and American leaders could look beyond the capitalist-versus-communist moral fervor of the early Cold War. In the 1980s, Gorbachev put up with Reagan’s anti-communist jokes, while Gorbachev’s Leninism did not inhibit a friendship from evolving between the Soviet General Secretary and the American president.

By comparison, the current tension between Russian nationalism and American internationalism will offer less room for diplomatic maneuvering. Obama sees the nationalism of Putin as illegitimate, a flashback to the age of Bismarck, a lynchpin of autocratic government and an unacceptable bridge of influence between Russia and ethnic Russian or pro-Russian constituencies in Ukraine—or anywhere else in the former Soviet Union. Nationalism is Moscow’s path to isolation from the international community. Putin sees the internationalism of Obama as illegitimate, a coded language fabricated to mask the realist agenda of the U.S. and the EU, which is to push Europe’s border as far eastward as it will go. Internationalism is Washington’s path to Eurasian dominance. Russian-American communication will only be possible when one or the other side gives up on its vision of national and international affairs.

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In the face of that nuclear terror, frankly, I don’t give a rip about the territorial integrity of Ukraine, or our NATO allies. Weighed against the scenario where my family looks at me helplessly as we realize we’re all going to die miserably and everyone we know will too, I’d accept just about any breach of international norms. I guess I’m just selfish that way.

So I’m inclined to seek ways of understanding Russia’s actions. I see a nation and dictator that suffered a humiliation when the pro-Russian government in Kiev fell, and has sought to recover it through a quick, illegal annexation, abetted by a rigged referendum. I’m inclined to understand their anxiety to maintain access to their Black Sea military resources. Yes, I’m inclined this way, partly, because of fear. Because years after the Berlin Wall came down, there is still a loaded gun pointed at our heads…

I know that this dread is what causes nations to appease dictators, to rationalize the subversion of elections far beyond Russia’s borders in order to keep the Kremlin feeling at ease. I know it makes me regret the expansion of NATO after the Cold War.

Freedom depends on not being intimidated. But if the only way to live in freedom is to live without fear, then contemplating the worst occasions radical thoughts for a conservative. Can national sovereignty and political freedom really exist in an age of nuclear superpowers?

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