Re-Activate the 12th Fleet
From the moment Vladimir Putin starting referring to eastern Ukraine as “New Russia” last week, Obama needed to abandon any notion that Putin needed off-ramps from his behavior, and instead needed to acknowledge that Putin looked for an opening to implement a sophisticated effort to swallow Crimea and then Ukraine. No one should think it will stop here. As such, after seeing people like Bob Gates, Dick Cheney, and Hillary Clinton be proven right about Putin, Obama is taking a clear-eyed view of Putin and his true ambitions, and has now recast the relationship as one of containment rather than strategic cooperation.
One can easily make an intellectual argument that Putin is acting first and foremost out of Russian self-interest to reestablish a security zone around Mother Russia from any economic and military encroachment from NATO and the EU. However, Russian foreign policy is being driven by Putin’s former KGB cronies, not by worldview Russian diplomats and businessmen, and these comrades want a return to client states and over-hyped Russian nationalism. Such an approach requires firmness and containment, both economically and militarily. In this case, economic containment means isolation if necessary and the cancellation of current or pending deals between Big Oil and the Russian government. Given the GOP's trashing of Obama's response to date, the president should fully and publicly expect full GOP support for such actions.
But just talking about containment means nothing to the Russians until our military posture reflects such a commitment. There needs to be military tools to sustain that policy. As I said at the outset of this mess, regardless of what Putin does next, Obama needs to reestablish the Twelfth Fleet in the eastern Mediterranean to deal with any Russian Black Sea delusions, and their client states in the region.