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Talking While Ukraine 'Teeters on the Brink'

At least it appears the U.S. administration has few illusions left about Russia's further designs on Ukraine, from which Vladimir Putin last month swiped Crimea. On Sunday, as Russia pressed ahead with a similar script in eastern Ukraine, the State Department put out a cascade of statements detailing Russia's campaign of causing bloody trouble in order to justify intervention.

The State Department's diplomatic blog carried a report that in Ukraine this weekend "Coordinated, well-armed Russian-backed militants attacked government buildings in a professional operation in six cities in eastern regions. Many of the attackers were carrying Russian-origin weapons and outfitted in bulletproof vests and camouflage uniforms with insignia removed." The State Department press office released a fact sheet titled "Russian Fiction the Sequel: 10 More False Claims," refuting Russia's "false and dangerous narrative to justify its illegal actions in Ukraine."

A State Department media note warned that the methods of the armed takeovers of government buildings in half a dozen cities in eastern Ukraine, apparently planned in advance, "strongly suggest that in eastern Ukraine Russia is now using the same tactics that it used in Crimea in order to foment separatism, undermine Ukrainian sovereignty, and exercise control over its neighbors in contravention of international law."

All of which might be effective if Russia's President Vladimir Putin had a deep and abiding respect for "international law." Or if the U.S. still had a credible policy of supporting and potentially enforcing such concepts with military muscle -- which is the language Putin speaks.

But U.S. credibility is becoming a relic of a bygone era -- fading like the "red line" in Syria, shrinking like U.S. military resources, dwindling like the U.S. nuclear arsenal and worth about as much as the promises to stand (with the international community) against a Russian grab for Crimea. The U.S. default is to talk...and talk... and talk... relying on words, backed by more words; hoping for the grand diplomatic solution (Iran, Syria, the Palestinians, and now Ukraine) as the words carry ever less weight. In February, as Russia threatened Ukraine's Crimea, President Obama declared that "The United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine." In March, as Russia was in the process of annexing Crimea, Obama said that "the United States has mobilized the international community in support of Ukraine to isolate Russia for its actions" and noted that "We saw this international unity... when Russia stood alone in the Security Council defending its actions in Crimea."

Evidently, the Kremlin has decided that its armed provocateurs backed by 40,000 troops on the eastern border of Ukraine will trump any amount of isolation at the UN Security Council. This was excruciatingly clear at an emergency meeting of the Security Council Sunday evening. It was the Security Council's 10th meeting this year on Ukraine, and there was no sign that it was any more successful at corralling Russia than the previous nine. Not that this should be a surprise, given that Russia holds one of the Permanent Five veto-wielding seats -- meaning that an actual resolution, whatever that might be worth, is out of the question.