What happens in the coming hours will decide how bad the Ukraine crisis gets for the vulnerable democracy in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s sights but also its potentially huge impact on Americans and an already deeply unstable world.
Whether Putin stages a full-scale invasion into all of Ukraine or limits his incursion to sending troops to two pro-Moscow regions in the east that he recognized as independent on Monday will dictate the severity of sanctions the US and its allies say will be the most consequential ever imposed on Moscow.
The question of whether he has ambitions beyond eastern Ukraine also has wider implications. His alarming speech Monday that slammed NATO for disrespecting and threatening Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union could plunge Washington and Moscow back into a new Cold War-style confrontation after 30 years of relative calm in Europe. And developments in the hours and days to come will have massive implications for Americans. A Russian invasion of the rest of Ukraine send already sending the soaring gasoline prices and inflation that have hammered wallets in the US much higher. It would also land another blow against President Joe Biden’s credibility and hand him an intractable challenge with his Democrats already at risk of huge losses in midterm election year.
The omens are very, very dark.