Simon Tisdall writes: Barack Obama has sternly warned Vladimir Putin there will be “costs” for Russia if it continues or expands its military intervention in Ukraine. But the American president did not specify what these costs might be, and this toothlessness, in a nutshell, is the dilemma now facing the US and its allies. Putin does not fear the west. On the contrary, he is once again forcefully demonstrating his deep contempt.
The idea that the US, Britain or France – the only western countries with sizeable, readily deployable, experienced combat forces – might respond militarily to Russia’s invasion of Crimea cannot be taken seriously. Putin surely calculates there will be no such challenge, as he did, correctly, in Georgia in 2008, and thus moves his troops and tanks in Crimea – and possibly eastern Ukraine – with impunity. Obama, whose presidency has been dedicated to ending wars, not starting them, has shown he has no appetite for new armed confrontations, in Syria or elsewhere.
Even if Obama did want to pursue a military option, he would be hard put to make it credible. US forces in western Europe have been cut back repeatedly. The US sixth fleet, headquartered in Naples, is a considerable weapon. But to make any sort of impact in Ukraine, it would have to deploy into the Black Sea via the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus, a move that Turkey would find highly objectionable, and which Russia would regard as a direct threat. [Continue reading…]