[This post has been updated to reflect Putin's announcement that he's preparing to intervene in the Ukraine]

Here are four videos with an overlapping cast of characters. You remember their names, but probably not the story. Nobody knows the story yet. What action they are portraying on stage remains a puzzle. They may not even know it themselves. What drama does it represent? Is it a comedy of errors? Or a tragedy?

In the video above, President Obama warns Russia about the consequences of destabilizing the Ukraine. The president’s remarks contain two undeniable facts. One, that he’s been trying to lasso Vladimir Putin into a joint resolution of the Ukrainian problem. Two, that so far he’s had no luck. Something has bolted the barn and that something must be coaxed back into the corral.

During the height of the Cold War it was believed that having to emphasize the obvious represented a failure of policy. Deterrence had to be self-evident; a daily thing. You didn’t go on the air to issue bloodcurdling warnings. You didn’t have to because stability was there, part of the normal like the air or the earth. The Russian president only had to look at the his daily briefing to know that the USAF was flying and hence that the day could begin as peacefully as the previous one.

One of my professors at Harvard remarked that it was possible to destabilize the world by building down as much as building up. If you changed the incentives, he said, you changed behavior. You encourage certain types of behavior and you get more of it. It was something everybody knew back then, but there were always those who knew better.