The lead article in today’s New York Times, “U.S. and Russians will Hold Talks in Ukraine Crisis,” describes a phone call initiated by Vladimir Putin to President Obama. The move caught administration officials off guard, and the intentions of the Russian leader remain uncertain.
Mr. Putin did not mention Crimea in his phone call, perhaps as a stronger negotiation stance or perhaps because he considers the Russian takeover a fait accompli. He did, however, address oppression of ethnic Russians in Transnistria, part of Moldovia that is currently being blockaded by Ukrainian troops.
The question is whether Mr. Putin is trying to buy time before a direct assault on that province or whether he is trying to negotiate his way out of Crimea in the face of nearly unanimous world condemnation. Even China, a regular ally during times like these, did not support Russia’s aggression at the United Nations.
Two top diplomats will now meet to discuss the crisis, and one hopes they do not talk past each other. U.S.-Russian conflicts are always potentially dangerous due to the large numbers of nuclear weapons on both sides and the ever-present possibility of a miscalculation. While the United States is fully aware of Mr. Putin’s desire to rebuild the Soviet Union, the Russians may not realize the lines they may not cross to do so.