NORMAN — March 10 illustrates the point: On that day, Russian forces seized a Ukrainian navy missile station in Crimea. But also on the 10th, three men returned to earth after spending 166 days together on the International Space Station; two Russians and an American. Since then, as we all know (except maybe those who have been watching CNN, which is All-Disappeared-Airliner-All-The-Time) Vladimir Putin ordered, in effect, an invasion of the peninsula. Then he contrived a referendum, with a preordained result in favor of rejoining the motherland, since the majority of the population is Russian-speaking. He wasted no time using the “da” vote as a justification to annex Crimea, ripping it away from Ukraine, which had controlled it since Nikita Khrushchev tossed it aside in 1954.
Here in the West, President Barack Obama and leaders of the European Union have responded with an incremental rollout of economic sanctions and blustered about really bringing down the hammer. Putin responded by putting a few U.S. congressional leaders on a persona non grata list.
As March 10 illustrated, there’s a big problem with this stuff: We and they are far too joined at the hip, so the options are limited. It’s not only the joint efforts in space, but the negotiations over Iran and nuclear arms, and other joint diplomatic and intelligence endeavors, to say nothing of cooperation in containing each other’s massive nuclear arsenals. The Putin-appointed head of a state news agency put it in less than delicate perspective by reminding everyone his country could turn the United States into “radioactive ash.” He forgot to mention that the U.S. also could make his country an ash heap, but we’re still a long way from a return to the full heat of the Cold War. For another thing, there is the clutter of economic relationships that benefit the oligarchs on both sides. You can bet they won’t stand for shenanigans for long.