Despite criticism to the contrary, the United States will respond decisively to Russia's intervention in Crimea, says DW's Miodrag Soric. And that response will not be limited to economic sanctions.
In the Crimean crisis, the Russian president has made the US look weak. And many American politicians are now blustering in Congress, and not only there. Vladimir Putin is taking action while the American president only makes threats or adopts symbolic sanctions, they say. Washington, it goes, is no longer willing to lead.
But it's too early for the Western superpower's swan song. The coming weeks and months will show that President Barack Obama intends to make Russia pay a high price for Putin's intervention in Crimea. Those who have spoken with his advisers in Washington have felt his determination. America will use weapons that take time to show their effect - economic sanctions, in particular.
Sanctions will hit Russia hard
Russia is reliant on international financial markets for money, funds it needs to invest in its economy and businesses. The banks and financial institutions that control these funds operate internationally. For them, Russia and its comparatively weak economic clout is, at best, a side business. The banks will gradually turn off the money taps if that's what the US demands. The result: Moscow will find it even harder to modernize its economy, and Russia will become even more dependent on its exports of raw materials.
The US also plans to attack Russia on that unprotected flank, the aim being to reduce Europe's dependence on Russian gas and oil. The US and Canada been planning for some time to export their natural gas abroad. Up to this point, however, the expected target was Asia, mainly because of the region's higher gas prices and stronger economy. But because Russia has decided to use the sale of its raw materials as a weapon, the Americans will have no choice but to also deliver to Europe in the coming years.
Russia's annexation of Crimea will also make it easier for the Americans to convince the Europeans to put more money into defense at the upcoming G7 meeting. Washington has tried to push this agenda for years - to no avail. Even after the bombing of Belgrade in 1999, the willingness of the Europeans to increase defense spending remained low, much to the annoyance of Washington. Many of US secretaries of defense have indirectly threatened the Europeans with a US withdrawal from NATO.
But, thanks to Putin, that attitude now belongs to the past. Nothing strengthens a military alliance more than a common enemy. During his visit to Brussels at the end of March, Obama will highlight the importance of NATO. Poland, Hungary and the Baltic states will agree with him and point to the new threat in Eastern Europe. And Germany and France will find it difficult to keep a low profile. NATO has a purpose once again. Moreover, Obama's advisers have left no doubt that the US is exploring NATO membership for Ukraine. It's not yet on the political agenda for this year, but possibly in 2015 or 2016.
In the end, for the Americans it's not about getting revenge on Russia. The US would prefer to have Moscow firmly at its side as it attempts to solve international problems such as the Syrian civil war or the Iran conflict. Washington is looking for stability, and it wants to maintain the world order that it has created over the past decades.
If Obama lets Russia get away with his plans in Crimea, this will have consequences for other post-Soviet states, the thinking goes at the White House. Whether it's in the Baltic region or in Central Asia, Russian minorities can be found everywhere. These countries could be faced with a choice: Either submit to the Kremlin or expect a Russian military intervention. Washington does not want it to come to that, and has no intention of letting it happen.