Vladimir Putin Outmaneuvers the U.S. Yet Again

By Daniel Lazare and cross-posted from truthdig 

Don’t look now, but Vladimir Putin has racked up another win in his latest skirmish with the West.

The victory took place Nov. 25 in the Kerch Strait, the narrow strip of water separating the disputed Crimean Peninsula from the Russian mainland to the east. It occurred when the Russian coast guard fired on and seized three Ukrainian naval vessels. As always, the details are in dispute, with the Ukrainians claiming that their boats informed the Russians about their plans to navigate the strait but received no reply and Russia saying the opposite.

But there’s no doubt as to the result. By briefly closing the strait, Russia has demonstrated that it can restrict access at will to roughly half the Ukrainian coastline that lies within the Sea of Azov, including the economically vital ports of Mariupol and Berdyansk.  Although Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko immediately called for Western intervention, it also demonstrated that there is little NATO can do in response.

While expressing “full support” for Ukraine, the alliance said nothing about Poroshenko’s request that NATO ships force their way through the Kerch Strait in defiance of the blockade. The same goes for Ukraine’s call to Turkey to close off Russian naval access to the Dardanelles, the equally narrow body of water connecting the Black Sea with the Mediterranean.  Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s only response was an offer to mediate.

So while Poroshenko declared that “the only language that Putin understands is the solidarity of the Western world,” it appears that the West is solidly behind a cautious policy of non-interference.

It’s an astonishing reversal from the heady days of early 2014 when it was Russia that was at the point of being cut off

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