MU expert says U.S. ability to punish Russia limited without Europe

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- The Parliament in Ukraine's Crimea region has voted unanimously to leave Ukraine and join Russia. Pro-Russia government demonstrators were seen cheering on local lawmakers who oppose Ukraine's new central government allied with the west. A referendum is scheduled for March 16th. President Obama says the referendum violates the Ukrainian constitution and international law. President Obama has also imposed sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine using an executive order instead of waiting for Congress to act. As the situation in Ukraine continues to unfold, a Marquette University Political Science expert is weighing in on the crisis.

With tensions high over the developing situation in Ukraine, the United States is trying to figure out its role, as Russia is making moves -- including putting Russian troops in Crimea.

Ukranians ousted their elected president, who had strong ties to Russia. Now, a European-leaning government is in place.

Marquette University Political Science Department Chairman Lowell Barrington says so far, the United States is limited in what it can do.

"Some of our key allies are anxious to put severe sanctions on Russia -- fearing what Russia would do in response. Putin's very concerned that the new Ukrainian government will be much more pro-European, and may cause problems for Russia with connections economically with Ukraine. I have heard people call this the most important and dangerous event of the 21st Century in Europe so far," Barrington said.

Barrington says Europe relies heavily on Russia for energy, and Russia could retaliate to sanctions by cutting off the energy supply.

"Our ability to punish Russia economically is limited without Europe," Barrington said.

One option is for U.S. to put Ukraine under its protection by fast-tracking it into NATO.

"If Russia invades Ukraine as a NATO member, they now trigger the required response by NATO to have a military engagement of that invasion," Barrington said.

According to Barrington, that would create a very dangerous situation in the future. He also says we're already feeling the crisis right now.

"In the meantime in our daily lives energy prices go up, gold goes up, the stock market goes down," Barrington said.

There have been concerns about Putin trying to create a Russian expansion and comparisons to Hitler in the 1930s.

However, Barrington believes it's too early to tell if that's the case.

Right now, he says Russia looks to be trying to keep its influence on Ukraine and especially Crimea.