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Let Europe Lead in Ukraine

WASHINGTON, DC – As Russia’s annexation of Crimea proceeds, the United States must step back; the European Union must step forward; and the international community must ensure both that Russia pays a steep economic and political price for its actions, and that Russian and Ukrainian nationalists do not lock both sides into a deadly spiral of violence.

Thus far, Western leaders have played their cards about as well as they could, barring early missteps by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who described a calculated assertion of Russia’s regional interests as the behavior of a leader who was out of touch with reality. Escalation of the crisis by the US at this stage would merely play into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hands and expose the West as a paper tiger.

To see why, it is useful to recall some history. Throughout the twentieth century, the US intervened repeatedly in Latin America to topple or subvert governments it did not like: in Cuba, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Guatemala, Haiti, El Salvador, Chile, and Grenada, to name only the most prominent cases. During the Cold War, successive US presidents were perfectly happy to send in troops, directly or indirectly, to ensure that friendly governments prevailed in the Americas (and beyond).

Now recall Western responses to previous Soviet and Russian incursions into strategically important countries: Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, or Georgia in 2008. Each time, the US refused to engage militarily with a state possessing the largest number of nuclear weapons on earth.