President Obama has cast himself as the leader of a global coalition opposed to Russian aggression in Ukraine, but it’s not clear exactly where he is leading it.
Analysts say key allies in Europe remain reluctant to take tough action against Moscow, recognizing the economic and energy leverage Russia wields over them.
Although Mr. Obama undoubtedly has succeeded in rallying countries, including China, to condemn Russian action, it remains to be seen whether they will offer anything other than words and, in turn, whether such a U.S.-led coalition will produce tangible results.
The White House again touted its leadership on the crisis, a day before Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk meets with Mr. Obama.
Mr. Yatsenyuk is visiting Washington days before the strategic region of Crimea votes on whether to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. The U.S. vehemently opposes such a move and says it would not recognize a Russian Crimea as legitimate.
Crimea’s parliament said Tuesday that if voters approve secession, the region first would declare itself an independent state. Such a move could de-escalate tensions between Russia and the West because Crimea would not be forcibly annexed by Moscow.
Mr. Obama and his European partners have struggled with ways to prevent further Russian moves into Ukraine and the larger issue of an increasingly aggressive Kremlin under President Vladimir Putin.
“I think it’s fair to say that, technically, we’re leading here because nobody else wants to do anything serious. That’s because Western Europeans have a very different perspective on this. I think they’re more realistic about what the West could force Putin to do,” said Alan Kuperman, a senior fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and a public-affairs professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
“The U.S. is going to push this harder than any Western European country,” he added.
The U.S. has imposed some economic sanctions on those deemed responsible for the unrest in Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine. The State Department also has revoked visas for Russians and Ukrainians, but has not made the names public.
On Tuesday, European Union nations continued to prepare sanctions that could go into effect as early as Monday, though some countries reportedly want to see how the Crimean secession vote turns out before taking further action.
In the meantime, some nations remain exceedingly cautious. Germany, more than other EU nations and the U.S., has pushed for diplomacy as a solution.
Russia supplies more than 40 percent of Germany’s natural gas and could retaliate if sanctions are imposed.
For European allies, the Ukrainian crisis has presented something of a role reversal with the U.S. after their more hawkish positions on Syria and Libya. Europe also has taken a relatively hard line against Iranian nuclear ambitions.
Analysts say part of the reason U.S. allies appear more reserved is that they don’t think the administration is willing to take further action if Russia grabs more Ukrainian land and takes more hostile action in the region.
“If all you want to do is wag your finger and moralize, it’s pretty easy. To get folks to sign up to do something serious — that’s a bit more difficult to do,” said Steven Bucci, director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy at the Heritage Foundation.
“I don’t think the administration has done that great a job recruiting people to do anything substantive, because I don’t think the administration is prepared to do anything substantive,” he said.
Mr. Bucci and others have suggested, among other things, the U.S. immediately approve natural-gas exports to Europe as a way to blunt Russian influence and revive the scrapped missile-defense program in Poland and the Czech Republic.
For now, however, the White House is sticking with its policy of sanctions, visa revocations and strongly worded statements. It already has dismissed U.S. gas exports as a solution to the immediate crisis in Ukraine.
“This is part of our effort to work with our international partners and allies to speak in a clear voice together that the actions taken by Russia to intervene militarily, in contravention of international law and in violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, is something we all oppose,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.
But others believe the White House actually is doing more harm than good by being so outspoken in opposition to Russia and recruiting international partners to do the same.
“They are failing to understand that by making the crisis so personal, the United States is doing a disservice to the people of Ukraine and making it much more difficult for the Russians to walk back their reckless grab for Crimea,” said Kori Schake, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution in a column for Foreign Policy.
• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at email@example.com.
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