The Washington Post and the New York Times disagree on the who’s leading the charge in imposing new sanctions on Russia. The NYT says “Obama Joins Europe in Expanding Sanctions on Russia”, while the Washington Post writes “Obama announces expanded sanctions against Russia as E.U. aligns”.

The NYT’s version of events is:

President Obama announced expanded sanctions against Russia on Tuesday, just hours after the European Union imposed its most sweeping measures yet penalizing Moscow for its role in supporting separatists in neighboring Ukraine….

Until now, European leaders have resisted the broader sorts of actions they agreed to on Tuesday and their decision to do so reflected increasing alarm that Russia is not only helping separatists in Ukraine but directly involving itself in the fighting.

The Washington Post sees it as Merkel’s conversion to the Anglo-American point of view.

LONDON — The European Union on Tuesday overcame months of misgivings about forcefully confronting Russia and unleashed a wave of tough economic sanctions intended to push Moscow into backing down from its destabilizing role in eastern Ukraine….

Europe’s harder line has long been sought by Washington, but was for months resisted by European officials who have been anxious about the implications for their own economies. German Chancellor Angela Merkel led a faction of European leaders who sought to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine through dialogue with Moscow, rather than punitive measures.

But the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine this month galvanized politicians in capitals across Europe to move swiftly against Moscow in retaliation for an attack that the West has blamed on pro-Russian rebels….

“The plane changed everything,” said Sophia Pugsley, a specialist in E.U.-Russia relations at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “And it’s really the German attitude that has changed. They’re the ones that are going to feel the pain in the parts of the economy that rely on Russia.”

Nobody quite knows how the Russians will respond, but despite denials that there’s a new Cold War, the only comparisons the interviewed experts could cite were the Cold War.  James Nixey, head of the Russia and Eurasia program at the London-based think tank Chatham House said “the truth is we beat Russia in the Cold War, particularly due to our economic strength, and we can do so again if we’re unified.”

But unified under whom? The sense conveyed by both the NYT and the WaPo is that Obama is now a peer among  equals. Boehner may have decided not to impeace Obama as president of the United States, but the Germans have apparently removed him from the post of Leader of the Free World.

In that sense this marks the first objective fulfillment of his implied foreign policy. America is no longer a special country. What Merkel matters as much as what Obama decides. Perhaps Angela Merkel has not been shy about making her views known. Today she said:

“The decision today was thus unavoidable,” Merkel said in a statement, adding that EU leaders had repeatedly warned Moscow that the annexation of Crimea and continued destabilisation of east Ukraine were not acceptable.

“It is now up to the leadership in Russia to decide whether they want to go the way of de-escalation and cooperation,” Merkel said. “The EU sanctions can be reviewed but further steps are also possible.”

It is perhaps a sign of the times that Japan is scheduling military exercises with France. Japan has been acting like it must increasingly see to its own defense. Who can blame them, as the Chinese Navy exercised in the East and South China seas forcing the cancellation of 200 commercial flights.

Russia will probably respond to the sanctions as all other sanctioned countries have done. The way Iran, North Korea and Iraq did, only on a much bigger, more competent scale. We should never forget that the Cold War was marked by periods of intense conflict, Korea and Vietnam being just two.  It was only “cold” by comparison to World War 2. For good or ill, president Obama has fundamentally changed the world, not only rolling back not only the victory of the Cold War, but to a certain extent even the legacy of World War 2.

Little ducks, there’s trouble in Russia. Let’s hope Aunt Angela can handle it.

This may be all for the best or it may not. Maybe it would have happened anyway, as an inevitable process of history. As John Kerry, who was physically searched before being allowed to see the Egyptian president discovered, being Secretary of State ain’t what it used to be.  Maybe he can still persuade Central America not to invade the USA.


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