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Opinion

Obama can punish Russia over Ukraine, but he has to change first

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Barack Obama,Russia,Defense Spending,Nuclear Weapons,Charles Hoskinson,Ukraine

Let's be honest: There's not much the Obama administration can do to tear Crimea from Russia's grasp -- or any other part of Ukraine that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to seize.

But events of the past three days should be a wake-up call for a president whose fantasy-based worldview has led him to misjudge Putin's intentions at every turn, without an effective response.

Example: The annoying habit of administration officials to insist that seizing the Crimea is not in Russia's interests. First it was national security adviser Susan Rice on Feb. 23. Then Obama chimed in on Friday, followed by Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday.

Seriously? The seizure of Crimea was carefully planned and professionally executed. Surely Putin knew he would be condemned by the international community for ordering it, since it violated Russia's formal commitments to respect Ukraine's territorial integrity. Does that seem like the actions of a nation acting against its own interests?

Putin thinks he's playing on a "Cold War chessboard," and whether Obama likes it or not, he's got to get in the game or it's checkmate for the U.S. As long as Putin views Obama as a weak leader who will not resist his moves, he will keep pushing the game forward.

It's time for some change we can really believe in. Here are three things Obama should do:

-- Abrogate New START and get both missile defense and nuclear weapons modernization back on track. Treaties are supposed to solve disputes, not create them. But this treaty was a bad deal from the start; it's so ambiguous on missile defense that Russia and the U.S. have almost opposing interpretations of what is allowed. And the administration has used the deal as an excuse to avoid modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal while the Russians are aggressively modernizing theirs.

-- Cancel plans to shrink the Army in the upcoming budget. It's hard to argue that the age of large-scale land warfare is over when there's one brewing right under your nose.

-- Make clear that the United States will not tolerate Russian military bases in Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela or anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere and will act to prevent them from being established. The Russians need to understand that the concept of the "near abroad" cuts both ways.

Will Putin resist these moves? You bet. Is there a potential for conflict? Of course. Is there a chance Obama will take these actions, all of which are the opposite of where his instincts have led him? Probably not.

But if Obama is serious about imposing "costs" on Russia as he said, these actions will send a message Putin will not misread.

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