UK & World News

  • 2 March 2014, 3:38

Ukraine Is Game Of High-Stakes Poker For Obama

Barack Obama says Ukraine is not a cold war chess game and he is not going to play it.

Actually it is more like high-stakes poker. The President plays poker and whether he likes it or not he is at the table for this game, up against the Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

President Obama does not have a good hand. There are no military options, and European allies are apparently divided and too poor to offer Ukraine the economic help it needs.

Mr Obama knows the US cannot offer much more. Were he to go to Congress and ask for billions of dollars to help the fledgling Ukrainian government, the answer would probably be no.

Vladimir Putin knows exactly what his American opponent has in his hand. Conversely the Russian leader is keeping everyone guessing.

On Friday afternoon Mr Obama made a play, threatening unspecified costs if Russia intervenes in Crimea.

Mr Putin read his opponent and called his bluff, upping the ante and asking for parliamentary approval to intervene in Ukraine - that's Ukraine, not just Crimea.

Who makes the next move? In trying to predict Vladimir Putin's calculations it is worth noting that he spent years and billions preparing for the Sochi Winter Olympics, all to enhance Russia's prestige and reputation.

In two days he has undone all of that with an act of naked aggression drawing condemnation from the rest of the world.

That is all you need to know about how important Crimea is to President Putin and to Russia.

Historic ties, the feelings of its people and the Russian military bases on the peninsula are worth an enormous amount.  It is hard to know what the US can threaten to alter that calculation.

The more costs the president threatens the more the Russian leader is likely to call his bluff and the weaker Mr Obama is going to appear.

The alternative is to do next to nothing, with his Republican rivals lambasting his impotence.

In a sense the president is damned if he does, damned if he doesn't.

He can threaten to pull out of the G8 summit in Sochi in Russia and persuade others to do the same.

He could threaten to throw Russia out of the G9.

He can warn Russia about the economic costs of its action.

But all the signs are that it will not make any difference.

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