For Obama In Ukraine, Tools Are Symbolic Or Economic

President Obama may have "all options" on the table, but in practice, his available tools are limited. Military action is all but unthinkable, while economic measures may have unintended effects.

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The Obama administration has been warning that Russia will pay a price for sending troops into Ukraine. And late today, part of that price again to emerge. The Pentagon is calling off joint military exercises and conferences with their Russian counterparts.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is consulting with allies on the international response to Russia's incursion. It's not all that clear, though, that the West has the power or the will to repel Russian forces. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama told reporters at the White House this afternoon the facts on the ground in Ukraine are deeply troubling, with Russian forces appearing to tighten their grip on Crimea. Over time, though, the president says the international community is determined to make Russia's invasion of Ukraine a costly proposition.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We are examining a whole series of steps - economic, diplomatic - that will isolate Russia and will have a negative impact on Russia's economy and its status in the world.

HORSLEY: All the countries in the G8, with the exception of Russia, have announced their suspending preparations for a summit meeting in Sochi this summer. Such a diplomatic snub might seem small in the face of Russia's military advance like bringing a pearl-handled letter opener to a knife fight. But Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations says it's an important symbolic blow.

CHARLES KUPCHAN: The G7 became the G8 as a way of saying to the Russians you now have a seat at the table. You are now part of this inner circle of major powers. To deny them a seat at the table is to try to remove some of Russia's great power status.

HORSLEY: The U.S. and its allies are also weighing economic sanctions. Some European countries may be reluctant to sever ties to Russia, which supplies 30 percent of the EU's natural gas. But Mike McFaul, who just stepped down as U.S. ambassador to Russia, says that country can ill afford economic isolation.

MICHAEL MCFAUL: In today's world, individual Russians, Russian companies, and major Russian state-owned companies, including banks, have assets all over the world, including the United States. And if we want to target those entities with sanctions, that will provide real economic cost to Russia back home.

HORSLEY: So far, no one is talking about a direct military response to Russia's movement inside Ukraine. Kupchan says you shouldn't expect to see a fleet of NATO warships steaming into the Black Sea.

KUPCHAN: That's just not going to happen. The interests at stake don't warrant it, and it would be very provocative.

HORSLEY: Secretary of State John Kerry leaves Washington tonight for Kiev in a show of support for the Ukrainian government. Obama also wants Congress to help in propping up the Ukrainian economy. For months now, Ukraine has been caught in an economic tug-of-war between Russia and the West. Kupchan suspects Russia may be able to retain its hold over Crimea if Putin decides to stop there. But former Ambassador McFaul is not certain he will.

MCFAUL: I don't think Putin knows what his endgame is yet. I don't think he has decided whether having Crimea declare its sovereignty and/or become the next region of Russia is what he wants, or if he's still holding out, you know, this threat of dissolution of Ukraine as a way to bargain for some new agreement for all of Ukraine.

HORSLEY: McFaul, who's been reading news accounts and Twitter feeds from Russia, says many there are confident Russia won't pay a serious price for its invasion. That could be a dangerous misjudgment, McFaul says, adding history is not so easily predictable. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

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