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As Russia's annexation of Crimea proceeds, the United States must step back; the European Union must step forward; and the international community must ensure both that Russia pays a steep economic and political price for its actions, and that Russian and Ukrainian nationalists do not lock both sides into a deadly spiral of violence.The EU as a whole has far more extensive economic ties – and hence influence – with Russia than the U.S. does. The EU is Russia's largest trading partner – the U.S. is in fifth place, behind China and Ukraine. Moreover, EU pressure on Russia is less likely to whip up Russian nationalism than U.S. "interference" in Russia's neighborhood. More important, the EU does not remind Russians daily of their post-Soviet losses and humiliation on the global stage in the same way that the U.S. does. The U.S. has far fewer Russia experts in politics today than it did two decades ago, because most American foreign policymakers have been paying far more attention to China, India and the Middle East. Finally, if the U.S. steps back, the EU, the United Nations, and even China can remind the Russians of the political consequences of flagrantly violating international law and swallowing up impoverished, restive territories that will prove far harder to digest than the fixed referendum results would suggest.
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