Kiev - Tuesday, soon after the Obama administration announced more soft sanctions against Russia amounting to a handful of names added to existing blacklists, militants occupied government headquarters in Luhansk, Ukraine.
The Pro-Russian separatists shot up regional headquarters occupied by municipal police in defiance of ineffective U.S. and European sanctions scoffed at by Moscow.
US Pres. Barack Obama has repeatedly threatened Russia with tough sanctions for its involvement in the seizure of Crimea, Ukraine and subsequent takeovers of government buildings by well armed pro-Russia militants.
After the violent occupation of provincial government headquarters in Luhansk, which borders Russia, Mr. Obama is under considerable pressure to come up with some sort of viable diplomatic strategy to avert a new Cold War between the East and West.
Meanwhile, Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin is using a military forces without uniforms to gain control of strategic Ukraine territories. Control of Luhansk would give Russia dominion over the entire Donbass coalfield — a coal-rich territory adjacent to Russia home to large steel smelters and heavy industrial manufacturing facilities responsible for generating more than 30 percent of Ukraine's industrial output.
Ukraine, a sovereign state of about 45 million people, was founded about 1000 years ago, but was a slave state to Russia and the Soviet Union for centuries. When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, Bolshevik commissars established sovereign borders for Ukraine from territories previously ruled by Russia, Poland and Austria.
The willingness of local government officials and police in Crimea and now Luhskan to surrender peacefully and submit to Russian rule presents a major problem for Ukraine and for Western nations who fear Putin has only began to accumulate sovereign territories.
"The regional leadership does not control its police force," said Stanislav Rechynsky, an aide to Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, referring to events in Luhansk. "The local police did nothing."
A Luhansk occupation would give pro-Moscow rebels control over two provincial capitals, including Donetsk where they have proclaimed an independent "People's Republic of Donetsk" and declared a referendum on secession for May 11.
The strategy is similar to one that saw Crimea reclaimed by Russia after pro-Russian invaders backed by 40,000 Russian troops on the border took control of the city. Like Luhskan, Crimea has a large industrial base, making it a viable target for Moscow.
Putin recently described Luhskan as “New Russia,” in the same term used by tsars after conquering the region in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The U.S. embassy in Kiev said pro-Russian activists are behaving like “terrorists, plans simple.” Monday, Pro-Russian militants attacked a rally of Kiev supporters - the militants were armed with wood clubs and iron bars. Pro-Russian forces now hold several dozen hostages, including seven unarmed European military monitors.
Western Europe, despite administering soft sanctions, seems to be holding its collective breath, hoping that the U.S. can stop the Russian aggression in Ukraine before it spreads to other regions.
However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the U.S. does not have the economic clout required nor the will for another European war.
Meanwhile, Western Europe has grown dependent on Russian oil and natural gas and Moscow has threatened to turn off the faucet to Europe in retaliation of sanctions.
Mr. Obama and his beleaguered Secretary of State have made multiple threats against Russia. However, both, from the outset, ruled out military options in dealing with the Ukraine crisis.
With Putin intent on rebuilding some variation of the former Soviet Union and Pres. Obama confronting him with a tiny stick of sanctions, countries of Western Europe should learn to equate energy independence with national security.