WASHINGTON — In a sudden reprise of Cold War sensibilities, the U.S. and its allies are weighing sanctions on Moscow and whether to bolster defenses in Europe in response to Russia's military advances on Ukraine. Secretary of State John Kerry, soon on his way to Ukraine's capital, said world leaders "are prepared to go to the hilt in order to isolate Russia with respect to this invasion."
Much as when superpower tensions ruled world affairs, missile defense systems and troop levels in Europe have again become urgent questions in Washington and beyond, a renewed reality that may force President Barack Obama's administration to give up its intended foreign policy shift to Asia indefinitely.
Also echoing the era of East-West confrontation, there appears to be little if any taste in the West for a direct military response to Russia's provocation.
Russian President Vladimir Putin gave no indication that he would heed the West's warnings. Hundreds of armed men surrounded a Ukrainian military base in Crimea, a pro-Russian area. In Kiev, Ukraine's capital, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk alerted allies that "we are on the brink of disaster."
"This is absolutely the most serious test of our alliances since the Cold War ended," Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, said in a nationally broadcast interview Monday.
"I think it is extremely dangerous. Ukrainians fight and Russians fight," said Kaptur, who has traveled to Ukraine on several occasions and is considered an expert on that part of the world.
Senior Obama administration officials said they believe Russia now has complete operational control over Crimea and has more than 6,000 forces in the region. The U.S. was also watching for ethnic skirmishes in other areas of eastern Ukraine, though the officials said they had not yet seen Russian military moves elsewhere. The officials were not authorized to publicly discuss the situation and spoke on condition of anonymity.