President Obama is not the first American president to be confronted by provocations and military actions from Moscow. All 12 presidents since World War II have faced such challenges. But Obama is one of the first to have a broad range of potentially biting nonmilitary responses to employ — a measure of how much Russia has been integrated into the world's financial system since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.
It is why American policymakers are so convinced that Russian President Vladimir Putin has miscalculated by dispatching troops to Crimea. And why you hear over and over again from the White House and State Department that Putin does not seem to understand the interconnectedness of the 21st-century world.
"What we see here are distinctly 19th- and 20th-century decisions made by President Putin to address problems, deploying military forces rather than negotiating," says a senior administration official, speaking on background. "But what he needs to understand is that in terms of his economy, he lives in the 21st-century world, an interdependent world."
The official added pointedly: "You may have noticed his economy is not in the greatest of shape. The ruble has taken a significant hit.... He depends on good trade relations with all of us, notably with Europe. And it is going to be very difficult for him to maintain those good relations with the outside world while he is using his military forces to threaten and intimidate a neighbor." Another senior administration official, noting that the ruble has fallen 8.3 percent so far this year, calls the Russian economy "really quite vulnerable" because of its integration in global markets.