US moves to isolate Russia from 'community of civilized nations'

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The Obama administration on Sunday worked to isolate Russia on the world stage, even as its president, Vladimir Putin, showed no signs of rolling back his military intervention in Ukraine.

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President Obama spoke by phone with leaders from Great Britain, Germany and Poland, and he dispatched Secretary of State John Kerry to Kiev on Tuesday for a show of solidarity with the new Ukrainian government.

After suspending preparations for an upcoming Group of 8 summit in Sochi, the administration began canceling lower-level diplomatic and economic meetings with Russian counterparts. And senior administration officials warned that Russia could be booted from the G-8 altogether, and its economy would suffer because of Putin’s decision to occupy the Crimean peninsula following the ouster last week of Ukraine’s pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych.

The strategy, described in a briefing senior administration officials discussed on the condition of anonymity, was aimed at demonstrating to Putin that his intervention in Crimea would not go unpunished, while also offering him “an off-ramp” if he chose to reverse course.

“It is Russia’s choice to behave in this manner,” one senior administration said. Russia can choose whether it wants to return “to the community of civilized nations.”

Yet, it was unclear Sunday if Putin cared or was even listening to the condemnation of Obama and U.S. allies. He sought and received authorization from the Russian Parliament for military force just hours after Obama warned him to stay out of Ukraine, and administration officials acknowledged Russia had reinforced its military position over the weekend.

The administration officials said there are more than 6,000 Russian troops in Ukraine, and its forces now had “complete operational control of Crimea.” The U.S. has seen evidence of unrest and “ethnic skirmishes” in eastern Ukraine, an official said, although it does not believe Russian forces have taken over areas outside of Crimea.

Asked if the administration had any reason to believe Putin was responding to the pressure and the condemnation, a senior official replied with a implicit shot at former President George W. Bush: “We in this administration have made it a practice not to look into Vladimir Putin’s soul.”

The officials noted the steep drop in recent days in the value of the Russian ruble and argued Putin had “badly miscalculated.”

“The Russian economy really is quite vulnerable,” a senior administration official said.

The officials said the U.S. had suggested sending international monitors to take the place of Russian forces in Crimea to assuage Putin’s concern for the safety of ethnic Russians and minority populations, which he cited as the rationale for the military intervention. Putin “did not slam the door on that,” a senior administration official said.

The U.S. is not considering any kind of military intervention at this stage, the officials said.

“Right now we are focused on political and economic and diplomatic options,” a senior administration official said. “We are looking to de-escalate this.”

The U.S. is working with the International Monetary Fund on an aid package for Ukraine, although an administration official said the country’s economic challenges were mainly “short-term” in nature because of their natural gas reserves.

“Ukraine is a very rich country and will be even richer when its natural gas is exploited,” the official said.

Earlier Sunday, Kerry took the Sunday new shows to accuse Putin of a “brazen act of aggression” straight out of the 19th century.

“It’s a 19th century act in the 21st century that really puts into question Russia’s capacity to be in the G-8,” Kerry said on ABC’s “This Week.”

He called on Congress to put together an economic aid package for Ukraine and said the U.S. would be prepared to impose economic sanctions on Russia.

“It may well come that we have to engage in that kind of activity, absolutely. I think all options are on the table,” he said.