The blatant Russian aggression against Ukraine in the Kerch Strait off the coast of Crimea is an out-and-out act of aggression and demands a vigorous response from the United States.
Vladamir Putin's goal is clear: take over Ukraine and restore it to the Moscow orbit. His strategy is to cut the salami slice by slice until it's all his. His takeover of Crimea was his first step. The invasion of Ukraine by Russian ethnic "rebels" backed by the Red Army was the second. And this naval challenge to Ukraine is the third.
If President Donald Trump is truly independent of Russia and charges of collusion and favoritism toward Putin are bunk, it's time for the president to address the Russian actions vigorously. We want that famous Trump outspokenness to be fully on display.
Ukraine is vital to America's interests. Until it is back in Moscow's grasp, Russia can never be a real superpower again.
Simply based on population, Russia's 144 million need Ukraine's 44 million to create a critical mass. Ukraine is Moscow's breadbasket, and Russia needs Ukraine's natural resources to regain its old power.
Conversely, with Ukraine sitting in Russia's front yard, an alliance between Kiev and the West would pose a direct challenge to Russian power.
Putin has been desperate to annex Ukraine. He has repeatedly sought to influence its elections by shutting on and off the pipeline switch that sends Ukraine all of its natural gas — usually right around the date of Ukrainian elections.
Putin has gone to great lengths to build a pipeline that would ship gas from Russia to Germany, and hence to all of Europe, without making it first travel through Ukraine. That way, Moscow could cut off gas to Ukraine without freezing Europe to death. Putin has bribed former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder by putting him on the board of the pipeline company. Trump was right to blast the pipeline at the NATO meetings last year.
But where is Trump now? His response has been pathetic. Instructing UN Ambassador Nikki Haley to vote against Russia in the Security Council was a good first step, and hinting that he might cancel bilateral meetings with Putin at the coming G-8 summit is also appropriate.
But he must act much, much more aggressively. He should vastly expand sanctions against Russia — sanctions that are biting deeply into Russia's economy in general and Putin's coterie of backers particularly. He should redeploy U.S. Naval assets in the Mediterranean to show the Red Navy that he means business.
As accusations continue — and lately increase — of collusion between Trump and Russia in the release of the Democratic Committee's emails, Trump cannot be seen to be coddling Russia. He must not act like Obama now.