Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON - Two things are clear in the crisis over Russia's effective seizure of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula: Vladimir Putin scored a knockout in the first round and economic sanctions will not change what has become a fait accompli.

Certainly not the restrained sanctions President Obama announced on Monday that were tantamount to a tap on the wrist in response to a brazen military takeover of a key province in a neighboring country.

Obama had repeatedly warned that there would be very heavy costs imposed on Russia if Putin pursued his bid to annex Crimea. But the penalties that he and our European allies announced were underwhelming to say the least.

So much so, that global stock markets shot up here and in Europe, as did Russia's stock and currency markets, in celebration of the soft response.

"So far the sanctions seem fairly toothless and much less severe than had been expected last week," was the way economic analyst Kathleen Brooks at Forex.com put it Monday.

"From the market's perspective, the biggest risk was that the referendum would trigger tough sanctions against Russia that could lead to another Cold War," she said.

In Washington, there was shock at how limited and weak the U.S. sanctions were. In its lead editorial Tuesday, the Washington Post called Obama's response all "Bark but no bite."

"While Vladimir Putin matches or exceeds the most pessimistic expectations of his belligerence -- over the weekend, Russian forces extended their invasion from Crimea to an adjacent area of Ukraine -- the United States and its allies so far are delivering less than they threatened," the Post said.

From the beginning of this long-planned military thrust into the Ukraine in pursuit of his Cold War dream to rebuild a Greater Russia, Putin has been running circles around his foes in the U.S. and Europe.

In the past week or so he has flooded Crimea with his troops, silenced dissent, organized the region's Russian-speaking majority in support of a bogus referendum (using pre-marked ballots) to declare that they wanted to be part of Russia, then signed a decree recognizing Crimea as an independent state -- a first step under Russian law before annexation.

Meantime, Crimea is petitioning Moscow to join the Russian Federation, adopting the ruble as its official currency, and renaming its parliament, the State Council of the Republic of Crimea.

But Putin's just getting started. He now has his eyes set on larger areas in Eastern Ukraine, if he can get away with it. Russian forces were massed on the Ukrainian border, sending a threatening signal that the rest of their country could be next.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.