Anti-government protesters in Kiev on Feb. 18. (Yury Kirnichny/Agence France Presse via Getty Images)

I must at least give Vice President Joe Biden credit. It was Biden who picked up the phone to chew out Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, whose subservience to Russia is having predictable results. The Post reports: “Ukrainian riot police armed with water cannons, stun grenades and rubber bullets sought to drive protesters away from Kiev’s main square Wednesday after clashes left at least 25 people dead and more than 240 injured in a dramatic escalation of the country’s three-month political crisis. . . . Vice President Biden telephoned  Yanukovych to express what the White House called ‘grave concern’ and urged the embattled leader to pull back government forces and immediately resume political discussions with opponents. Biden ‘made clear that the United States condemns violence by any side, but that the government bears special responsibility to de-escalate the situation,’ a White House statement said.” Even Jay Carney pronounced the White House “appalled.”

Beyond heightened rhetoric, there is no sign of action to back up our statements. (“Washington announced no specific new action, but the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, threatened both sides with sanctions.”) And it is perplexing to threaten the protesters with sanctions, as Pyatt has done. (How would we do that and not bolster the crackdown?)

So far, the European Union is dragging its feet on sanctions. As Reuters reports, “German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with two Ukrainian opposition leaders on Monday, in a sign of support, but did not appear to have given concrete backing to their pleas for immediate sanctions on President Viktor [Yanukovych]. . . . The Ukrainian opposition has been urging the EU to go beyond vocal support for its fight for more democracy.” You can understand why U.S. diplomats supportive of democracy in Ukraine would be frustrated.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) echoed the call for sanctions (“I urge the Obama administration to use every diplomatic means at its disposal, including sanctions, to bring accountability to those involved in acts of violence throughout Ukraine”), as have other critics of the administration.

Let’s hope the E.U. “weighs sanctions” quickly (a meeting is set for tomorrow).

But let’s be clear who is ultimately responsible for this: Vladimir Putin. Putin’s the one who muscled Ukraine into backing out of trade talks with the E.U. and has been pressuring Yanukovych to crack down on his own people. This is one more example of Russia running amok when it correctly perceives there is no downside to challenging the West and all too many opportunities to show up the Obama administration as feckless. Be it Syria or Ukraine, the administration’s reluctance to challenge Putin has serious and deadly consequences for those seeking greater liberty.