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By most accounts, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been the winner in the Ukraine crisis, at least so far.While the United States – which trades little with Russia – and the EU have vowed to develop a framework for additional sanctions, to be activated if Putin sends forces into eastern Ukraine, designing them in a way that does not hurt Europe will not be easy.Does any of this matter to Putin?By this account, Putin feared diminished influence in a neighboring country with which Russia shares deep historical ties. But despite Russia's obvious influence among eastern Ukraine's Russophones, the overall impact of the annexation of Crimea has been to reduce Russia's influence in the country, while reinvigorating Putin's bete noire, NATO.Before the Winter Games in Sochi (where the G-8 was scheduled to meet in June), Putin cited increased soft power as an important goal for Russia – an objective that his use of hard power in Ukraine has made much more difficult to achieve.In this sense, Obama's declaration that Russia is a regional power acting out of weakness, no less than Russia's suspension from the G-8, may have hit Putin where he is most vulnerable.
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