Vladimir Putin wants all of Ukraine and the big question is whether he'll be satisfied with that, according to Frank Gaffney, deputy assistant secretary of defense under President Ronald Reagan.
Gaffney, who is now president of the Center for Security Policy, says Putin is probing to see just how far he can go and is getting virtually no resistance from the United States.
Tension in Ukraine are on the rise again, with increasing reports of pro-Russian militants seizing police stations and other government buildings in eastern Ukraine, a region known to be sympathetic to Moscow. Experts fear the Russians are stoking an artificial movement in that part of the country designed to trigger additional independence votes and eventual assimilation by Russia. Gaffney says Putin's strategy goes far beyond a little regional nibbling.
"The question is does he really want more than the whole thing of Ukraine. The think the answer to that is probably yes. I think he will insist upon, at the very minimum, that all of Ukraine once again is subject to Russian dominion, as it was under the previous President Yanukovych. Whether his appetite extends beyond that to Trans-Dniester (Moldova) or to Latvia and Estonia or perhaps other former Soviet republics [that] have Russian populations is anybody's guess," said Gaffney.
"But I think that the heavy betting should be on he's going to continue to go for as much as he can because he senses no real opposition from either the administration here in Washington or from the Europeans," he said.
The Obama administration says the president will likely speak to Putin soon about the latest instigation of unrest in Ukraine.
"I can assure you that Russia's further provocations and transgressions will come with a cost," said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.
Gaffney says that kind of response will yield little to nothing.
"This isn't the first time that that's been said, by the president, by Secretary of State John Kerry, let alone by the White House press spokesman. I think it's been completely discounted by Vladmir Putin because he knows our capacity to impose greater costs is considerably limited by both the condition of our own military, our economy, not least our leadership, and because we've failed to take any appreciable steps to date," said Gaffney.
"The extent of our support for Ukraine to this point has been to provide meals ready to eat to a country ready to be eaten. This is hardly a disincentive to Vladimir Putin and I think he's behaving accordingly," said Gaffney.
The Obama administration is also responding to news that a Russian warplane recently buzzed an American Navy ship in the region, with Carney calling it "provocative and unprofessional."
"This is the kind of thing that can lead to conflagrations because one suddenly one finds that the response is mandatory and no longer elective. I'm worried that the president's failure, as is so often the case, and this is what the lessons of history teach us, things get worse the longer you defer acting on them," said Gaffney.
Gaffney further asserts that the brewing tension with the Russians is another facet of the larger battle for freedom in the world.
"I believe the war we're in is best thought of as the war for the free world and whether the assaults against the free world by the Islamists or by the Chinese or by the Russians or by Hugo Chavez and his successors or anybody else, to think that it doesn't matter to U.S. security when other parts of the free world or aspirants to being part of it are lopped off at the hands of thugs who have very bad intentions toward us as well is the worst sort of shortsightedness.
It shows an ignorance of the hard lessons of history that should cause all of us to realize that we are poorly led and it is exposing us to great dangers," said Gaffney.