The West's response to the Crimea situation depends on Putin

A pro-Russian demonstrator scuffles with police during a rally in Donetsk. Photo: Reuters

At some point, the West's warnings words to Russia are going to have to become deeds. Here in Washington the White House has again condemned the referendum in Crimea and refused to recognise the outcome.

"In this century, we are long past the days when the international community will stand quietly by while one country forcibly seizes the territory of another," says spokesman Jay Carney.

But so far that is pretty much what the West has done. Still, Carney promised that Russia would pay a price.

Just how swift and how sweeping still depends on Moscow's response to the vote - and its next move in eastern Ukraine, where we saw again today, Russian-stoked crowds are out for trouble.

According to the New York Times, US and EU officials have drawn up a list of individuals close to President Putin to target. They are said to include the chief executive of Gazprom and head of the oil giant Rosneft.

There are however many who believe that the Kremlin is impervious to this kind of pressure - at least in the short term. Part of the West's difficulty in calibrating its response is that it's not certain which Vladimir Putin they're dealing with.

Vladimir Putin at the Sochi Paralympics closing ceremony. Credit: Reuters

Is it a President who has rediscovered Russian nationalism as a route to restoring national pride and personal popularity. Some even believe if goes further and that the crisis marks a turning point with Russia deliberately isolating itself from the West.

Or is it the Putin of old; a wily pragmatist with whom it is possible to deal, albeit after a very hard fought game.

How Moscow's reaction to the Crimea vote plays out in the coming hours and days should give us the answer.

More on this story