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A soldier in Crimea, Ukraine, on March 2, 2014. Russia captured the Crimean peninsula without firing a shot and sparking fear in the Ukrainian capital. / Maxim Shipenkov, European Pressphoto Agency

One silver lining in drawing Russia closer to the West over the past two decades was to make Moscow feel real economic pain if it pulled any Soviet-style stunts.

In the old days, when Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev unleashed tanks on Prague, he didn't worry about the impact on the ruble.

Vladimir Putin does.

On Sunday, as the Russian squeeze on the Crimea intensified, the ruble plunged from 34 to the dollar to 40 to the dollar. That was never a factor in the Brezhnev era because the ruble was artificially valued. There was no exchange rate with the dollar.

But even had there been, Brezhev would have shrugged it off because the state owned everything - every restaurant, every bread store, every car plant.

Not so today. Certainly Russian President Putin has plenty of power at his fingertips, but he also must contend with a growing business community - even if many are oligarchs beholden to him - that don't want a cut off of resources, a cancellation of gas contracts, and an abrupt halt to tourism.

"Money doesn't love war," tweeted Gennadi Gudkov, a Russian businessman and politician who The Moscow Times once called "one of parliament's most vocal and charismatic critics" of Putin.

That in itself is a very non-Soviet notion - a high-profile critic who can spread his message worldwide in an instant and go to work the next day.

In one of the more fascinating looks at unfolding events, Michael McFaul, who had been U.S. ambassador to Russia until just a week ago, is now back in California tweeting his own commentary. It is perhaps the closest we will get to look at this diplomatic crisis from an unmuzzled insider.

"Russian companies and banks with business in the West will suffer as a result of reckless Putin decision," McFaul tweeted from his reclaimed post as Stanford professor. "Will they speak up?"

Earlier, McFaul told The New York Times that President Obama should do more to ensure that Russia's business-minded establishment understands that it would find itself cut off.

"There needs to be a serious discussion as soon as possible about economic sanctions so they realize there will be costs," McFaul told the newspaper. "They should know there will be consequences and those should be spelled out before they take further actions."

And, in his free-wheeling tweets, the former ambassador noted other constraints on Putin, even as the Russian leader flexes his muscles: "Only 90 senators out of 166 voted to support Putin call for military action"

But the space opened up by the lifting of heavy Soviet hands is a two-sided reality. I recall being in Moscow when the coup against Mikhail Gorbachev unraveled as Russian President Boris Yeltsin stared down the coup plotters and the tanks.

As the takeover collapsed, Soviet tanks in central Moscow turned around and made their way slowly out Leninsky Prospekt, back to their bases.

A Russian friend stood at the window as the tanks rolled by and said, "For the first time in my life, I am proud to be a Russian."

That concept of a real Russia - not an artificial Soviet construct foisted on people for decades - is now a powerful, building force.

I saw normally cynical Russians stand and cheer the Russian national anthem at a Moscow sports bar as the country's athletes marched in the Olympic opening ceremonies.

This sometimes nascent Russian pride is what Putin built on with the $59 billion Olympic extravaganza in Sochi. It was what fed the rabid Russian hockey fans who desperately wanted their team to win.

But that new Russian pride also spawns sympathy among many Russians over Ukraine - which has long been seen as a step-child to Russia - and a protective sense toward Russian-speaking people living there.

Russians want to puff their chests a bit and hold up their heads - perhaps not enough to support an all-out invasion, but enough to give Putin some solid public backing in defending the Russian Naval base at Sevastopol and so-called Russian interests in Ukraine.

It's why the West is careful to note that the interests of Russians living in Ukraine must be taken into account amid the crisis.

As International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said in the closing ceremonies of the Olympics, there is a "new Russia" being born.

He is right. Now the troops of that New Russia are descending on the Crimea. But Putin may find there are restraints that, in the end, even a Soviet-style impulse cannot overcome.

Stanglin reported from Moscow for nearly three decades.



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Voices: Economic ties to West may restrain Putin in Ukraine

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