Paul Greenberg

You know the technique. In police work, it's called good cop, bad cop. A couple of detectives team up to work on a suspect. The good cop wants to be our suspect's friend, offering all kinds of inducements if he'll do as the cops say -- like provide information or just straighten out his act in general. If he'll do that, his friend the good cop assures him, he'll get lenient treatment, maybe even a reward. And won't be left to the less than tender mercies of the bad cop. And there's no telling what the bad cop will do to him if he doesn't cooperate. (In diplomatic circles, this is called deterrence, and it's been known to have considerable effect.)

In diplomacy, the same game might be called good thug, bad thug, and it's being played on us. And it's paying off handsomely for the latest aggressor out to take over Eastern Europe (and soon enough points beyond) piece by piece. Having already ingested Crimea, the latest tsar of all the Russias is now chewing on what remains of Ukraine, beginning in the east and advancing from city to city, taking hostages all along the way.

Among the victims was a group of international observers dispatched to Ukraine by the ironically titled Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe. The hostages were paraded for the delectation of the Russian media by the bad thugs in occupied Slovyansk. You can tell the bad thugs by their standard Russian-issue camo (minus insignia) plus the obligatory black masks and menacing manner.

The hostages appeared nervous when they were marched before the television cameras, and they had every reason to be. Even as they tried to explain that they weren't soldiers but only observers, and formally thanked their captors for their kind treatment. ("Since yesterday, we have been in a more comfortable room, which has been equipped with heating.") Watching them at this command performance, it was hard not to be reminded of the captured POWs that the North Korean and Vietnamese Communists used to trot out for the usual naifs in the press. Or the squad of robotized hostages in "The Manchurian Candidate."

The hostages now have been released after a week of being held and exhibited. The official response from the good thugs in Moscow was to praise the hostage-takers for their "courage and humanism."

The all-too-familiar scene in Slovyansk was just Stage One in the extensive repertoire of tactics perfected by Moscow over the years, and now being practiced in various Ukrainian locales as city halls are seized, the Russian flag raised, and officials, journalists and just innocent passersby are jailed -- or worse.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.