"I don't think this is a moment," Secretary of State John Kerry told NBC News' David Gregory on Sunday, on the eve of a critical trip to the restive capital of Ukraine, "to be proclaiming one thing or the other."
In the instant moment, the secretary was fielding a question about whether the Obama administration's fabled "reset" with Russia can officially be pronounced dead. But Kerry's response could equally be seen as a summation of the administration's still-evolving policy on how to counter the weekend's stunning invasion of Crimea by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Russian Federation undertook the operation despite a stern warning from President Obama just hours earlier that Moscow would face unspecified "costs" if it violated Ukraine's territorial integrity.
Senior administration officials conceded, in an hour-long background briefing with reporters Sunday night, that Putin's moves to seize control of key installations in the southeastern part of Ukraine had encompassed the deployment of some 6,000 air and naval forces, along with "considerable materiel," and had resulted in the Kremlin establishing "complete operational control of the Crimean Peninsula." "They are flying in reinforcements," said one senior U.S. official on the call, "and they're settling in."
The officials' acknowledgment that Putin's forces are "settling in" for a protracted occupation of Crimea came only a few hours after Kerry had toured the Sunday morning talk shows to convey how strongly President Obama had urged Putin, in their 90-minute telephone call on Saturday, to reverse the action. And even there, Kerry's presentation carried more than a hint of equivocation.