You Sanction Me? No, I Sanction You!

The week brought more snow to the Mid-Atlantic region, along with a blast of the Cold War, replete with an exchange of sanctions by Washington and the Kremlin, followed by displays of bravado by the sanctioned. “Big honor for me,” declared Vladislav Surkov, a top Kremlin strategist. “Badge of honor,” came the echo from Senator Mary L. Landrieu, head of the Senate energy committee.

Senator Robert Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, elevated his inclusion on President Vladimir V. Putin’s list of those banned from travel to Russia to the noble wound of a Cold Warrior: “If standing up for the Ukrainian people, their freedom, their hard-earned democracy and sovereignty means I’m sanctioned by Putin, so be it.”

The uncomfortable problem was that the Ukrainian people had not yet achieved much democracy and the West had not found a way to stand up for their sovereignty when President Putin took over the Crimean Peninsula. Senators Landrieu and Menendez and their colleagues in Congress were not of much help, with an “emergency” aid package for Ukraine solidly tangled up in a partisan dispute over the International Monetary Fund.

The big question now was whether Mr. Putin would move on southern and eastern Ukraine — areas with sizable Russian populations — and if he did, what the West could or would do about it. The prospect seemed remote, and both Washington and Brussels seemed firmly opposed to taking military action.

The mystery over Mr. Putin’s ultimate goal, and all the other unexpected twists and turns of the Ukrainian crisis, stood in curious contrast to the continuing revelations and disputes over electronic wiretapping and eavesdropping.

The latest in the endless series of mind-boggling disclosures culled from documents leaked by Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, was that the N.S.A. had developed a system capable of recording all — 100 percent — of a foreign country’s telephone calls and keeping them available for 30 days should a need arise to rummage through them. At the request of United States officials, The Washington Post, which first revealed the program, did not identify the country where the system, code-named Mystic, was first deployed.

Yet with this capacity for accumulating limitless data, Mr. Putin’s annexation of Crimea had not been anticipated. Even more amazingly, a world capable of such extraordinary surveillance had managed to “lose” a huge, modern jetliner after it went silent on a routine flight with 239 people aboard.

Once the interim authorities in Kiev wisely pulled Ukrainian troops out of Crimea, recognizing the futility of going to war with Russia, the attention of experts and officials turned to assessing what had happened and what to do about it. There was a widespread sense that relations with Russia, or at least with President Putin, had fundamentally shifted, and a battered and bankrupt Ukraine was now effectively a ward of the West.

In a little-noted ceremony in Brussels, the interim Ukrainian prime minister, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, and the European Council president, Herman Van Rompuy, signed the political portion of the accession agreement with the European Union that President Viktor F. Yanukovych had balked at signing, precipitating the current crisis. Only part of the agreement was signed Friday — the rest awaited the selection of a Ukrainian president in elections scheduled for May 25.

That president’s first challenge will be to usher in a better organization for Ukraine, perhaps a federal one, to satisfy the disparate factions. For now, no candidate seems to have the broad acceptance or credibility for the task. The best known and most experienced of them, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, the former prime minister who was jailed by Mr. Yanukovych, was tainted by participation in previous, discredited governments.

Another problem was that militant groupings energized by the long standoff on the Maidan continued to be armed and active. Mr. Yatsenyuk set a deadline of Friday for turning in illegal firearms, but there was no immediate indication it had been obeyed.

And then there was Mr. Putin. The days when President George W. Bush looked into Mr. Putin’s eyes and thought he saw a “very straightforward and trustworthy” soul seemed ancient history. Even the Germans were now backing away from their traditional faith in dialogue and cooperation as a means of moderating Russian behavior — a shift reflected in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s declaration that the Group of 8, a forum of major industrial nations in which Russia was originally included as a means of nudging it toward democracy and free enterprise, had ceased to exist.

The worldview Mr. Putin sketched in his major speech to the leaders of Russia in a glittering Kremlin ceremony on Tuesday, when he declared that Crimea had been restored to Russia, revealed a man full of resentment for a West that refused to respect him. He expressed profound rancor for the United States, which lived “by the rule of the gun” and believed “that only they can ever be right.” Russia’s efforts at engagement and dialogue with the West were routinely snubbed, he claimed, and instead Moscow was dealt a long series of affronts, from the eastward expansion of NATO to the offer of an accession treaty to Ukraine. Mr. Putin touched some widely shared feelings among Russians. Many feel they were given no credit for throwing off Communism and resent American claims to have “won” the Cold War, and there are ample historic grounds to regard Crimea as Russian territory. The president claimed to speak for a majority of Russians, just after shutting down some popular websites.

Now that Mr. Putin has left no doubt about what motivates him, the European Union and the United States will have to “reset” their dealings with Russia. Finding ways to support Ukraine will be one of the first challenges.

Serge Schmemann is a member of the editorial board of The New York Times.

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