A common question, is that now that Vladimir Putin’s forces are in the Crimea, what can we do? Especially since the US and Russia cannot directly go to war without risking thermonuclear conflagration.
The answer is that there is plenty that the US can do. For starters, we can consider some of Michael Barone’s suggestions:
“(1) Announce it will not only not attend the G-8 conference scheduled for Sochi but will move to expel Russia from the G-8. Russia doesn't belong in the G-8 anyway; the other members, the original G-7, have much larger economies with electoral democracies, free markets and the rule of law. Russia is deficient on each count.
(2) Move U.S. and other NATO military forces into Poland and other Eastern European NATO countries, particularly the Baltic republics. These nations have been extremely cooperative with the United States and have received the back of our hand in return.
(3) Move to set up the anti-ballistic missile facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic which Obama scuttled in 2009--on the anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland, when it was an ally of Nazi Germany, in 1939.
(4) Cut off Russian banks' access to U.S., European Union and Japanese banking facilities. Such moves squeezed Iran hard enough to get it to the bargaining table.
(5) Extend the list of Russians barred from the United States under the Magnitsky Act.”
Item 1 is largely symbolic, but 2 to 5 are not. They will hurt Russia directly. Items 2 and 3 will secure America’s NATO allies, and items 4 and 5 will target Putin’s cronies.
In addition, much that can be done militarily does not rise to the level of a direct confrontation. For instance, the US can give military assistance to Ukraine. In this scenario, the US military is not at war, but the Russian military might be. From the perspective of Vladimir Putin, this is a bad outcome.
If Putin is content to occupy the Crimean Peninsula, it is likely that the Ukrainian forces will not be strong enough to push the Russians out. Nevertheless, though the Crimea is a Russian-majority land, there lives is a significant Ukrainian minority who can be assisted in any counterinsurgency effort they may undertake.
As of this writing, Vladimir Putin has not invaded the Ukrainian sections of Ukraine, but if he does, he can be made to pay a heavy price. While Russian forces are likely strong enough to take over the entire country, occupying a large, uncooperative populace is a different matter. To maintain control, a large portion of their forces will have to be dedicated to long-term occupation duties. If the US assists the Ukrainian resistance the way it assisted Solidarity in Poland or the muhajadeen in Afghanistan in the 1980’s, it is very likely that a lot of body bags will be sent home to mother Russia. Robert Tracinski made the same point in the Federalist. The terrified, former Soviet nations - who have no illusions about who Putin is - can be counted on to help any way they can. Played right, it might even lead to Vladimir Putin’s overthrow.
This is, of course, why it is likely that Putin will confine his ambitions to the Crimean Peninsula.
Of course, all of these countermoves are predicated on an American president closer to Ronald Reagan than Barack Obama.