Assessments are complicated by the penisula''s history, a majority of its population that is Russian ethnically and linguistically, some degree of autonomy for what is called the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, chaos throughout the Ukraine that makes any assessments of legality problematic, as well as the political leaning of Crimea''s senior official to Russia, and his call for assistance against Ukrainian nationalist extremists.
Believe what you will from what is said by way of reports or justifications--amidst the drums of war--from that part of the Wild East. Accept the claims of the well-coiffured lady who now asserts her leadership of the Ukraine, or what is said about her own ill-gotten wealth.
President Barack Obama and ranking officials of European governments and the European Union have condemned the Russian move, and have threatened consequences if the movement of troops is not reversed.
John Kerry produced a deeply intoned condemnation as strong as what he said right before Barack Obama waffled on Syria''s use of chemical weapons.
Aside from sending his listeners to the nearest sanctuary to confess their sins, it is hard to know what will come of Kerry''s latest call for justice and decency.
To paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt, the American President is speaking loudly and hiding whatever sticks he has left.
Obama''s policy has been to downsize the military and deal with trouble spots like Syria and Iran by what he calls political agreement, and what his critics describe as appeasement.
The US has not been successful at warfare since 1945, with the possible exceptions of Grenada and Panama.
Russia is more of a challenge.
Obama and Kerry can open the most prestigious of their home town newspapers, and read an editorial headlined, "The Post''s View: President Obama’s foreign policy is based on fantasy
It is helpful to think of the Cuban missile crisis. Russia--then the Soviet Union--conceded the primacy of US interests.
The Crimea is as close to Russia as Cuba to Florida.
There may be costs to Russia of verbal confrontation, and the possibility of economic sanctions, or perhaps nothing more severe that not sending a high level delegation to the upcoming economic summit at Sochi.
Before the Europeans or Americans go too far down the route of economic sanctions, they ought to worry about Russia closing off Europe''s gas.
One should also be cynical about the Russians. They haven''t done all that well with respect to the Ukraine. Most recently, their ally or puppet in the presidency was rapacious in milking a poor nation for personal luxuries, in a way that has been shown to be grandiose to the level of disgust even by the standards of opulent and irresponsible leaders of centuries past, or the worst of hedonistic princes from the Arab oil kingdoms.
Poles are nervous. The Ukraine is part of what protects them from the Russians, along with Belarus, which is about as Russian as it is possible to get without actually being Russian.
What does it mean for the Jews?
Population estimates vary widely, and provide one insight into an area known for ethnic mixing, unreliable government and information. Estimates range between 67,000 and 200,000 Jews currently in Ukraine, down from close to three million prior to the Holocaust. Some claim that Jews were one-third of the pre-war Ukrainian population, but 3 million is a long way from being one-third of 20+ million. There are some 600,000 "Ukrainians" currently in Israel.
Those who remain resemble the dwindled populations elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Some do well, but many are old and dependent. The communities are served from Chabad and other renewed international Jewish organizations now having access to areas that once were closed to them. We know of Israelis who supplement the meager pensions of relatives who decided not to leave.
Jews are never too few to cause an end of anti-Semitism. The current unrest has produced reports of anti-Jewish editorials and graffiti in the Crimea and elsewhere in the Ukraine.
Some might see a benefit for Israel in the world''s attention going somewhere else. However, whatever respite we have will not last, and developments there might even cost us some political capital. Israel is wary of offending Russia as well as western European governments and especially the United States, but it will be difficult not to disturb one side or another by a comment, action, or a failure to comment or act, as this confrontation develops to who knows what.