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Crimea's worth: Sanctions, talk and math

March 20. 2014 11:09PM

Russia hosted the Olympic games, then promptly invaded Ukraine. Weeks later, President Obama imposed two rounds of financial sanctions, primarily focused on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s friends. That will show him!

Obama made a point of noting that “the international community” is very displeased with the former KGB colonel. The sanctions result from “choices the Russian government has made, choices that have been rejected by the international community,” Obama said on Thursday. “Russia must know that further escalation will only isolate it further from the international community,” he added.

Nothing motivates Vladimir Putin more than the fear that the French, Bermudans and Nigerians might disapprove of his manners.

Going to war with Russia over Crimea is not on any sensible person’s to-do list. Referring romantically to the judgment of the nonexistent “international community” isn’t either. President Obama thinks international relations is like the student senate, where participants are desperate to be liked and respected. Putin cares about neither. And Obama hasn’t a clue how to deal with a head of state who wants to beat him, not gain his approval.

This week’s sanctions are fine, as far as they go. The trouble is they do not go very far. Putin has calculated that the value of Crimea is greater than the value of most sanctions Obama would be willing to impose. That is the only calculation that matters, and Obama does not seem to realize it.

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