Kerry: "All options are on the table" in response to Russian invasion of Crimea

Maybe the Obama administration is taking the Budapest Memorandum more seriously than we imagined — or at least want Russia to think we are. Secretary of State John Kerry told ABC’s This Week that “all options are on the table” for a response to Vladimir Putin’s Crimean invasion, including military options:

Secretary of State John Kerry said that “all options are on the table” when it comes to steps the U.S. can take to hold Russia accountable for its military movements in Ukraine, including economic sanctions and potentially military action.

In an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos today on “This Week,” Kerry said Russian troops moving into the Ukrainian region of Crimea was “a military act of aggression” and that the U.S. will move swiftly to impose penalties if Russian President Vladimir Putin does not withdraw his troops.

While military force is among the options President Barack Obama is considering, Kerry said the U.S. and its allies hope they can avoid such action.

“The hope of the U.S. and everybody in the world is not to see this escalate into a military confrontation,” he said.

Sounds like tough talk, but would Russia buy it? Moving troops into Ukraine from the west would all but declare war between NATO and Russia, including the US. If Putin thought for a moment that the West would fight over Crimea again, he wouldn’t have taken it over this week in the first place.

That’s not to say that we have no options, and even some military signals can have an impact on the situation, argues retired Admiral James Stavridis at Foreign Policy:

In the military sphere, these include ordering the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), led by U.S. General Phil Breedlove, to conduct prudent planning and present options in response to the situation. While such planning should be left to the current commanders and military experts, some ideas to consider would include:

  • Increasing all intelligence-gathering functions through satellite, Predator unmanned vehicles, and especially cyber.
  • Using the NATO-Ukrainian Council and existing military partnerships with the Ukrainian military to share information, intelligence, and situational awareness with authorities in Kiev.
  • Providing advice to Ukrainian armed forces to prepare and position themselves in the event of further conflict.
  • Developing NATO contingency plans to react to full-scale invasion of Ukraine and to a partial invasion likely of Crimea. NATO contingency planning can be cumbersome, but in Libya it moved quickly. …

Many will consider any level of NATO involvement provocative and potentially inflammatory. Unfortunately, the stakes are high and the Russians are moving. Sitting idle, without at least looking at options, is a mistake for NATO and would itself constitute a signal to Putin — one that he would welcome.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, put it another way on Fox News Sunday. The problem is that we’re reacting instead of driving events, while Putin has moves figured out several steps ahead:

“Putin is playing chess and I think we are playing marbles, and I don’t think it’s even close” the Michigan Republican said on “Fox News Sunday.”  “They’ve been running circles around us. And I believe it’s the naïve position on the National Security Council and the president’s advisers that, if we just keep giving things to Russia, they’ll wake up and say, ‘the United States is not that bad.’ That is completely missing the motivations of why Russia does what Russia does.”

Putin intends to expand Russia’s “buffer zones,” as it has in Ukraine, Rogers said, predicting the next former Soviet republic to see a Russian invasion will be Moldova.

“It is in their interest to continue to push out that buffer zone,” Rogers said. “And, by the way, the big one that started this was the absolute retreat on our missile defense system in Poland and Czechoslovakia, caused us huge problems for our allies and emboldened the Russians and it really has been a downhill slide.”

Ethnic Russians only comprise 6% of the Moldovan population, compared to 18% in Ukraine. Moldova is also land-locked on the other side of the north shore of the Black Sea and has no common border with Russia, and wouldn’t even in a partitioned Ukraine. If I were Latvian (26% ethnic Russian) or Estonia (25% ethnic Russian), I’d be a lot more concerned than the Moldovans at the moment.