Our Views: Who’s winning in short term

Tally up the gains and losses in the crisis in Ukraine, and Russian President Vladimir Putin is on a roll: annexation of Crimea and destabilization of democratic Ukraine.

The cost to the latter-day czar of some of the Russias: a few U.S. sanctions on travel or finance of a few notable Russian figures.

Not easy to figure out that Putin is coming out ahead, way ahead.

So far.

When and if the United States and Europe can get their act together, the costs for Putin likely are to rise higher. But even as the free world — Russia is a democracy only in name — seeks to unite around a program of action, the dictators are going to seem resolute and successful, the democracies as vacillating.

In fact, one can add to Putin’s victories the knee-jerk criticism of President Barack Obama by leading figures of his political opposition. At a time when the appearance of unity against aggression is in short supply, Washington plays short-term political games.

What’s the good news? As we said at the beginning of Putin’s gambit, the fact that economic sanctions are the West’s only realistic response means that driving Russia from the Crimean peninsula will take a while, possibly years.

Just one element of the timing: European countries have vast trade links with Russia.

Their supplies of oil and natural gas are of vital importance, although not the only commercial issue with Europe.

So it will take time to rally a bunch of disparate governments to respond effectively. It is ever thus with free countries, who seem in a bit of disarray right now.

Obama announced a tougher new round of sanctions Thursday. “The world is watching with grave concern as Russia has positioned its military in a way that could lead to further incursions into southern and eastern Ukraine,” Obama said.

If Putin believes that time is on his side, he may well be proved wrong one day. If the United States and its allies stay a course of firmness and resolve, if our policy is that the Russians disgorge their ill-gotten gains, then one day the story might be different.