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Obama's options on the 'Cold War chessboard'

US President Barack Obama (L) and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (R) converse at Putin's residence outside Moscow in Novo-Ogarevo on July 7, 2009, when hopes for U.S.-Russian relations seemed more promising. 

President Obama and his administration may be keeping their options open publicly, but analysts say that privately they are discussing all options of how to respond to Russian President Vladimir Putin's military presence in Crimea. 

"While the United States may be feeling as if it does not want to get into what President Obama called 'a Cold War chessboard', that’s still the way Vladimir Putin thinks about the world and operates in it," says David Sanger, national security correspondent for the New York Times. "Our main weapon is the president's favorite non-combatant unit, which is the Treasury department."

Russia has a greater trade relationship with other members of the global economy than they did during the Cold War. But, says Sanger, that’s a double-edged sword – Russia can also inflict damage on the economies of those they trade with. Namely: Europe.

"The biggest thing [President Obama] has going for him is that the investors the Russians desperately need in their oil sector and other energy sectors, they will all be reluctant to come in," Sanger says.

The Russian and Crimean parliaments keep talking about nationalizing resources as a possible response to sanctions from the West.

Still, Sanger doesn't want to overstate the seriousness of escalating tensions with Russia or even another Cold War: "It may well fall off the high priority list fairly quickly."

"The bigger cost could be that the hope that Russia would help the United States with other conflicts -- Syria, Iran, North Korea -- or President Obama’s vision of driving the U.S. and Russia together...I think those are all pretty well gone at this point," he adds.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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