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I liked Hillary Clinton a lot better as Secretary of State than I do John Kerry. I always thought that the job was supposed to be about diplomacy and Clinton generally struck that tone, at least in public. Last summer when the situation in Syria reached a crisis point, Kerry went on TV and delivered a stem winder speech that was clearly intended to drum up support for an attack. Happily he got the rug pulled out from under him.

Now he is in Kiev playing to the Ukrainian nationalist.

Obama and Kerry talk tough on Russia as US tries to rally support for sanctions President and secretary of state indicate they are not yet buying Putin’s claims about his intentions towards neighbouring Ukraine

US officials poured cold water on the idea that Russia was pulling back from confrontation with Ukraine on Tuesday, pointing to the continued presence of troops in Crimea and accusing it of being misleading about its intentions.

During a trip to Kiev, US secretary of state John Kerry claimed Moscow was “working hard to create a pretext for Russia to invade further,” and “hiding its hand behind falsehoods, intimidation and provocations.”

Kerry also scoffed at reports of a news conference held by Vladimir Putin in which he appeared to deny a Russian military presence in Crimea. “Did he really deny that there were troops in Crimea?” Kerry asked reporters incredulously.

Putin’s more conciliatory remarks earlier on Tuesday have put the US in a tricky situation as it tries to rally international support for sanctions against Russia, but President Barack Obama later insisted the reality on the ground in Crimea was still of deep concern.

I certainly don't know what Putin's real intentions are, but I also doubt that Kerry is privy to them either. It was reported yesterday that several European countries, especially Germany, we not convinced about climbing on Washington's bandwagon to impose sanctions on Russia. Putin's speech from earlier today was something that people hoping to avoid a major confrontation are likely to respond to with hope. Obama followed Kerry with a similar line.
“The fact that we are still seeing soldiers out of their barracks in Crimea is an indication that what’s happening there is not based on actual concern for Russian nationals or Russian speakers inside the Ukraine but is based on Russia seeking through force to exert influence on a neighbouring country,” he said following a speech on the US budget in Maryland.

“There have been some reports that Putin is pausing for a moment,and reflecting on what’s happened,” the president added.

“I think we have all seen from the perspective of the EU, US and allies around the world, there is a strong belief that Russia’s action is violating international law. Putin seems to have a different set of lawyers, making a different set of interpretations, but I don’t think that is fooling anyone.”

So this is a war of words. The US and Russia seem to be the primary antagonists. It is the EU and its various member states who are the audience. They are the ones with the closest economic ties with Russia. They have more clout than the US and are more likely to be harmed by protracted economic disruption. Who are they going to listen to? I think that is pretty much an open question. Nobody approves of Putin and his aggressive tactics, but it is likely that they realize that the US government is struggling to hold onto its historical hegemonic role. If I were Angela Merkel, I would take both sides with a grain of salt.

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