Odds slim for U.S. military action in Ukraine

by Philip Ewing - Politico

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Administration officials say the U.S. can punish Putin without the threat of force. | AP Photo


American military commanders have a sizable amount of firepower at their disposal in Europe as the crisis deepens over Russia’s incursion into Ukraine — but Washington has no plans to use it.

From Air Force warplanes in Great Britain to Army brigades in Germany to a Navy aircraft carrier strike group that happens to be on its way through the Mediterranean, tens of thousands of U.S. troops and ample high-tech weaponry are available for tasking. The risks associated with a showdown with Moscow, however, mean such orders probably will never come.

Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday that “all options” were “on the table” as Washington determines how to respond to the Crimea crisis, but a senior administration official later told reporters he was describing the American “menu” of non-military options.

“We are focused on political and economic and diplomatic and economic options,” the official said. “We do have a wide range of options to include isolation, potential sanctions, relationships between Russia [and other countries]. … Our goal is to uphold the territorial integrity and government of Ukraine, not to have a military escalation. I don’t think we’re focused right now on some sort of military intervention. I don’t think that would be an effective way to deescalate the situation.”

Administration officials say the U.S. can punish Russian President Vladimir Putin effectively enough without the threat of force.

“The Russians have badly miscalculated here,” a second senior administration official said. “What we see here are distinctly 19th and 20th century decisions made by President Putin to address problems, deploying military forces rather than negotiating, rather than talking. What he needs to understand is that in terms of his economy, he lives in a 21st century world, an interdependent world. As you may have noticed, his economy is not in the greatest of shape, the ruble is taking a hit. … He depends on trade relations with the rest of us. It’s going to be very difficult to maintain that kind of relationship with the outside world while he is using his military forces to threaten and intimidate a neighbor.”

The second senior official said that about 6,000 Russian airborne and naval troops had seized “complete operational control” of the Crimean peninsula and confirmed their positions were being strengthened by further reinforcements.

Even as it threatened to isolate and sanction Moscow, however, the administration said it wanted to leave the door open for Putin to resolve the crisis through diplomacy. Kerry planned to fly to the Ukrainian capital of Kiev for negotiations. And the second senior administration official said that Putin had not completely “closed the door” to diplomacy in his phone call with President Barack Obama.

In Brussels, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters on Sunday that the Atlantic alliance had agreed upon a new statement condemning Russia’s incursion, but there seemed to be no urgency for anything more. Ukraine is not a NATO member, but Rasmussen called it “a valued partner” and said the alliance would “stand by the norms and principles of international law.”



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