Ukraine conflict sparks moral indignation in West

A float displaying a giant likeness of Russian President Vladimir Putin with a muscle like a bomb reading "Crimea" on his arm during the traditional Rose Monday parade in Dusseldorf, western Germany on 3 March 2014 Image copyright AFP
Image caption The US and EU have explored sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin regarding escalating actions in Ukraine

There is a good deal of moral indignation in the White House, and talk of hitting the Russians where it hurts: in their wallets.

It may not be enough to change the Kremlin's calculation.

Forget suggestions of sending in observers and getting Russia out of Crimea. This is now about a desperate attempt to stop this escalating into a full-scale, violent invasion of the whole country.

Putin and Obama are such different characters.

One is a small, strutting hard man with a passion to re-create an old empire, the other the professorial president - concerned not to repeat the mistakes that happen when America behaves like an empire - ever-hesitant to use the massive brute force his country can muster.

There is obviously no enthusiasm in the US, or the European Union, for any military action. It has just about been ruled out by all concerned, for very obvious reasons.

A war between Russia and the West is all but unthinkable. That leaves the US and the EU with the familiar toolkit of sanctions and denunciation.

Frustration and disbelief

But there is concern in Washington that many European countries may want to tread softly for fear of losing lucrative trade deals.

A glimpse of a briefing document in Downing Street suggests that Washington is right to be worried.

There is a sense of frustration and disbelief.

President Obama declares that Russia is on the wrong side of history. That it should be isolated. US officials proclaim President Putin is behaving in a 19th Century manner in the 21st Century.

They argue with some conviction that what looks like the Russian leader's strength is his weakness. That Putin has revealed himself as unattractive - quite literally.

He has no soft power, no country wants to join the new Russian empire of its own volition, so all he has left is his hard power, the power that comes from the barrel of a gun.

But even if the White House thinks military power is a relic from a past age, it can work, at least in the short term.

Sanctions, too, can work - but they take not hours, not even months, but years to really bite.

If Russia takes no notice, ignores the threats to its economy, and escalates the action in Ukraine, the US and the EU will be left stranded on the moral high ground - high and dry.

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