Obama calls meeting of G-7, EU to discuss Ukraine; Update: Ukraine claims soldier killed by Russian forces in Crimea

Will the West get serious about sanctions on Russia, now that Vladimir Putin has completed his seizure of Crimea? We may soon find out … relatively soon, anyway. The US , Japan, and European nations already had a nuclear summit on the schedule next week, and Barack Obama has now requested a side meeting of the G-7 and EU to discuss the response to the crisis in Ukraine. The call appears to signal that the G-8 may subtract Russia from its membership:

President Barack Obama is gathering allied leaders for a meeting in Europe next week to discuss further action in response to Russia’s involvement in Ukraine.

White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said Obama on Tuesday invited leaders of the G-7 and European Union to meet on the sidelines of a nuclear summit next week in the Netherlands. Hayden said it will focus on what steps the group can take to respond to developments in Ukraine.

The official response of the G-7 nations has only been to cancel some preparatory meetings to the G-8 summit in Sochi, scheduled for June. At least officially, that meeting is still on. That leaves a pretty wide range of responses available for the G-7 nations, from kicking Russia out of the G-8 to … a strongly worded letter or two, with a formal cancellation of Sochi somewhere in between.

To which end of the spectrum will the West lean? Earlier I linked to the French response to the Crimean annexation, which was … less than resolute (via Olivier Knox):

France might cancel a controversial deal to sell two state-of-the-art warships to Russia but only if Britain also acted against Russian oligarchs in London, according to the French foreign minister.

Speaking after Russian president Vladimir Putin approved a draft bill for the annexation of Crimea before the parliament in Moscow, Laurent Fabius warned he “could envisage” blocking the €1.2bn (£1bn) sale.

France is due to deliver two high-tech Mistral warships to Russia. The first, christened the Vladivostok, has already undergone sea trials from the port of Saint-Nazaire. A second, called the Sevastopol, is due to be completed by the end of next year.

“If Putin continues doing what he is doing we could envisage cancelling the sales,” Fabius told TF1 television on Tuesday. “This would be part of a third level of sanctions. For the moment we are at the second level.

“But we will ask others, and I’m thinking namely the British, to do the same with the assets of the Russian oligarchs in London. Sanctions have to be shouldered by everyone.”

Well, sure, but there is a qualitative difference to leaving personal assets unmolested and arming someone who just seized territory from another state. This will cost the French government (they own most of the company building the two helicopter carriers), but that is in large part their own fault. They contracted for this sale after Putin’s similar seizure of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and invasion of Georgia in 2008, which was supported in large measure by helicopter gunships of the kind this two carriers will support.

Besides, sanctions always damage both sides economically. The point of sanctions is to provide an alternative to military conflict or abject surrender. Ronald Reagan used economics as a key part of his strategy to drive the Soviet Union into collapse, which certainly cost the US plenty in spending but accomplished the goal of freeing eastern Europe from the Soviet grip.

Thus far, the G-8 nations can’t even agree on a suspension for Russia, let alone giving Putin the boot:

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Tuesday said G-8 leaders have decided to suspend Russia’s participation because of its incursion into Crimea, although other member countries said no decision has been made about Russia’s future in the group.

Britain’s Foreign Office said Tuesday that Russia is still part of the G8 — but did not rule out a suspension.

Obama has a real opportunity to provide some leadership in this crisis, because no one else seems to want to do so. He is marching in the right direction, if belatedly and at a slow speed, but that might be because our allies have little desire to keep up. If the West’s response continues to be this weak, don’t expect Putin to stop at Crimea.

Update: The Washington Post editorial board is not exactly impressed with the sanctions thus far, either:

THE SANCTIONS President Obama announced Monday to punish Russia and its collaborators in Ukraine are intended to inflict economic pain. So a fair measure of their adequacy was the reaction Monday of the Russian stock and currency markets: Both spiked upward in celebration.

While Vladi­mir Putin matches or exceeds the most pessimistic expectations of his belligerence — over the weekend, Russian forces extended their invasion from Crimea to an adjacent area of Ukraine — the United States and its allies so far are delivering less than they threatened, or than markets expected, in retaliation. Unless the West quickly steps up measures against the oligarchs, bag men and banks that prop up the Russian regime, the result will likely be more aggression. …

Mr. Obama has been holding back on tougher measures while offering Mr. Putin face-saving ways to de-escalate. While that is not an unreasonable policy, it can’t succeed if Mr. Putin is determined, as he seems to be, to crush Ukraine while ignoring Western reaction. It’s not too late to force Mr. Putin to reconsider his course, but that will require the West to get ahead of him in adopting measures that inflict real pain, rather than waiting to react to his next act of aggression.

Mr. Obama said Monday he will “calibrate our response based on whether Russia chooses to escalate or de-escalate.” Since a de-escalation looks at this point like wishful thinking, we’ll know that the president’s calibrations are adequate when they cause Russia’s markets to plunge rather than rally.

That’s not the only measure, and some of that exuberance may well be irrational and soon regretted. But clearly it’s not stopping Putin, and the real measure may be Ukraine’s eastern border.

Update: The situation in Crimea is deteriorating into war:

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said on Tuesday that the conflict in its Crimea peninsula, now under Russian control, had entered a military phase after an Ukrainian officer was killed in an alleged Russian shooting at a Crimea base.

“The conflict is moving from a political one to a military one because of Russian soldiers,” he told a meeting at Ukraine’s defense ministry. “Today, Russian soldiers began shooting at Ukrainian servicemen and this is a war crime without any expiry under a statute of limitations.”

Yatseniuk said he had ordered Ukraine’s defense minister to call a meeting with his counterparts from Britain, France, and Russia – signatories to a 1994 treaty guaranteeing Ukraine’s borders to “prevent an escalation of the conflict”.

Earlier, a military spokesman said a Ukrainian officer was killed in a shooting at a military facility on the outskirts of the Crimean capital Simferopol, but it was unclear who was behind the incident.

I don’t think the West has a week to save the rest of Ukraine.