Ukraine crisis takes ominous turn

President Obama said today there will be “costs” if Russia intervenes militarily in Ukraine’s civil unrest.

OK, at least the president didn’t draw a bright line.

His comments today came as word arrived that Russian troops have been spotted inside Ukrainian territory. Ukraine’s president — a friend of Russia — is holed up on Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin is rattling swords. It’s turning now into another East-West confrontation that reminds some folks of, yep, another Cold War.

The United States, Europe, indeed the rest of the world will not dare to intervene militarily on behalf of Ukraine if Russia refuses to back off. So that leaves the question: How do you define “costs,” Mr. President?

Economic sanctions? Trade embargo? Blockade? Freezing of assets abroad?

This crisis underscores the frustration and the danger of trying to stare down a nation with substantial military muscle.

It almost goes without saying that the president is correct to assert that Ukraine must be allowed to decide its political future peacefully — and by itself. Its sovereignty must not be violated. Yes, Russia has a long-standing historical tie with Ukraine, given that Ukraine once was a satellite state of the former Soviet Union.

But that’s in the past. The present requires Russia to honor Ukraine’s internal wishes and it must not dictate its future the way the Soviet Union dictated civil unrest outcomes in Hungary (in 1956) and Czechoslovakia (in 1968) by use of brute force. The Soviet empire has been tossed into the trash heap.

The world is watching and waiting.