The situation in Ukraine is moving rapidly. The country’s interim government is now calling up its military reserves to pressure Russia against further movements into the country after the Russian Parliament gave President Vladimir Putin authority to use military force in the area. But so far, after a short, unspecific statement from the White House on Friday, the U.S. response has been murky at best.
Secretary of State John Kerry tried to clear up the U.S. position during a run of the Sunday show gauntlet. And when he spoke with David Gregory on Meet the Press, he gave a sense of what the Obama administration is actually considering to do to stop Putin from going further, either in Crimea or in Ukraine as a whole.
“This is an act of aggression that is completely trumped up in terms of its pretext,” Kerry said Sunday. “It’s really 19th century behavior in the 21st century.” Kerry suggested that, if Russia’s actions in Crimea and Ukraine continue, the G8 will, at a minimum, not meet in Sochi as planned for June. The U.S. is already making plans to pull out of that summit.
Kerry elaborated further on the costs the international community could impose on Russia, saying that the G8 countries are going to “isolate” Russia, that “they’re not going to engage with Russia in a normal business as usual manner.” That statement is not much more specific than anything else the White House has said in the last week. Kerry also mentioned potential asset freezes, visa bans, and that “there could be certainly disruption of any of the normal trade routine.”
Could western military forces get involved? Kerry hedged the question, saying that the North Atlantic Council is meeting Sunday, but that he doesn’t “know what is actually on the table with respect to the steps they may or may not take.”
“The last thing anybody wants is a military option in this kind of a situation,” Kerry said.
“We want a peaceful resolution through the normal processes of international relations. But in the absence of President Putin making the right decision to work with the government of Ukraine, to work with the west, to work with all of us, as I said a moment ago, this is not about the Russia and the United States. It’s about the people of Ukraine…I mean, [Russia is] in direct, overt violation of international law.”
There’s nothing in Kerry’s response about potential military action that firmly says that the U.S. will or will not consider military intervention. Of course military action is never preferable. But right now, the U.S. seems to be keeping as many options open as possible.
That includes removing Russia from the G8.
Putin’s “going to lose on the international stage, Russia is going to lose, the Russian people are going to lose,” if something doesn’t change, Kerry said. Putin will “lose all of the glow that came out of the Olympics,” and he’ll lose his Sochi G8 summit. But then came a relative hammer: “He may not even remain in the G8 if this continues.”
Some Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, were already pushing the Obama administration Sunday to act to kick Russia from the G8. Sen. Marco Rubio, in a Politico op-ed, wrote that “if Russian troops do not leave Ukraine immediately, Russia should be expelled from [the G8] altogether.” President Obama hinted around the threat on Saturday in a 90-minute phone call with Putin himself, saying that Russia’s “standing in the international community” was at risk.
Russia has been a member of the G8 since 1998, when the group of seven industrialized nations (then the G7) added the country to its summit.
“The United States is united, Russia is isolated,” Kerry said Sunday “That is not a position of strength.” So far though, it’s not really clear what action the United States is “united” around. Putin, on the other hand, is moving ahead. Even in isolation.