Sam Riley — Sky News April 17, 2014
But tensions have shot up as a result of Barack Obama’s jawing.
For the first time in decades an American president has raised the prospect of war with Russia.
“What I have said consistently is that each time Russia takes these kinds of steps that are designed to destabilise Ukraine and violate their sovereignty, that there are going to be consequences.”
He went on: “Not only have Russians gone into Crimea and annexed it in illegal fashion … but what they have also done is supported, at minimum, non-state militias in southern and eastern Ukraine.”
Mr Obama added: “They are not interested in any kind of military confrontation with us, understanding that our conventional forces are significantly superior to the Russians.”
The US president is not an accomplished speaker off the cuff. On his last trip to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, the complexities of the problems there made his statements at press conferences halting to the point of incoherence.
His boast of military superiority to a proud and often petulant nuclear power could conceivably be put down to an unguarded moment in an interview with CBS.
Such language was to be avoided, Churchill knew, because a nuclear power had the trump card of annihilation.
MAD – Mutually Assured Destruction – usually kept the tone and language of international affairs reasonably civil.
Russia has been pumping out absurd, but widely believed agitprop.
The Kremlin’s agents have painted a picture of the east of Ukraine’s Russian-speaking populations as victims of ethnic cleansing by Nazi groups who have taken over Kiev like an infestation of zombies from the Third Reich.
In eastern Ukraine many believe that Mr Obama and the Europeans are in league with these dark forces.
Vladimir Putin has reassured them that their most paranoid fantasies are entirely correct.
Ukraine, he insists, is on the brink of a civil war. On the brink of an “abyss”.
The feeble new government in Kiev has failed to reach out to the nervous citizens of the east.
Serhiy Taruta, the embattled governor of the province of Donetsk Oblast has told Sky News that the Kiev government that appointed him had failed to win the trust of its eastern population.
Pronouncements that Russians would need visas to enter the country and even an early, failed attempt to ban Russian as an official language have meant that Mr Putin’s seeds of fear have fallen on fertile ground.
The reaction from the West after the Russian seizure and annexation of Crimea has become increasingly strident amid relatively mild economic sanctions.
Nato has upped the ante, increasing the number of ships in the Baltic and sending more naval assets to the eastern Mediterranean.
Such moves confirm in the minds of conspiratorial Russians that the West is trying to move its war machine closer to Moscow.
This is not the case. No one in Europe or Nato wants a conflict with Russia, a valuable trading partner with a massive nuclear arsenal.
But Mr Obama’s loose jaw has raised the spectre of what was once simply impossible. War.