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Will Putin allow Ukraine to establish closer economic ties with West?

2/24/2014, 12:47 a.m.

“As we stand by, the Soviet Union, which we thought was dead, is being reconstituted in the form of the new Russian empire under Vladimir Putin,” said Fox News contributor Judith Miller on the same program. “And if we let him get away with that, he's going to think that he can do whatever he wants in the region.”

But one former ambassador to Ukraine cautioned – as does the Obama administration – against framing the current crisis in Cold War terms. “This is less about East-West influence and more about the Ukrainian people and their future,” said John Herbst, who represented the U.S. in Kiev from 2003 to 2006. “We might not always be able to provide substantial economic help or intervene militarily, but we should always be the well wishers of freedom.”

It is true that Putin, whose government sits atop the world’s largest natural gas reserves, is unlikely to allow allied countries to “defect” to the West absent any cost to them politically.

The Kremlin uses its near-monopoly on energy supply to Eastern Europe to keep such countries within Moscow’s post-Soviet sphere of influence. Case in point: Armenia, which, like the Yanukovych government in Ukraine, spurned a deal with the European union last year in favor of joining a Russian-led consortium.