One senior Obama administration official called Vladimir Putin's actions in Ukraine "outrageous." A second described them as an "outlaw act." A third said his brazen use of military force harked back to a past century.
"What we see here are distinctly 19th- and 20th-century decisions made by President Putin," said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity to a group of reporters. "But what he needs to understand is that in terms of his economy, he lives in the 21st-century world, an interdependent world."
James Jeffrey, a retired career U.S. diplomat, said that view of Putin's mindset cripples the United States' response to the Russian leader. The issue is not that Putin fails to grasp the promise of Western-style democratic capitalism. It is that he and other American rivals flatly reject it.
"All of us that have been in the last four administrations have drunk the Kool-Aid," Jeffrey said, referring to the belief that they could talk Putin into seeing the Western system as beneficial. "'If they would just understand that it can be a win-win, if we can only convince them'—Putin doesn't see it," Jeffrey said. "The Chinese don't see it. And I think the Iranians don't see it."
Jeffrey and other experts called for short-term caution in Ukraine. Threatening military action or publicly baiting Putin would likely prompt him to seize more of Ukraine by force. But they said the seizure of Crimea represents the most significant challenge to the system of international relations in place since the end of the Cold War. Flouting multiple treaties, the United Nations system, and long-established international law, Russia has set a dangerously low standard for military intervention.