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As separatists in Crimea kept up pressure for unification with Moscow, Ukraine on Sunday solemnly commemorated the 200th anniversary of the birth of its greatest poet, with the prime minister vowing not to give up "a single centimeter" of Ukrainian territory.
"This is our land," Arseniy Yatsenyuk told a crowd gathered at the Kiev statue to writer and nationalist Taras Shevchenko. "Our fathers and grandfathers have spilled their blood for this land. And we won't budge a single centimeter from Ukrainian land. Let Russia and its president know this."
"We're one country, one family and we're here together with our kobzar (bard) Taras," said acting President Oleksandr Turchynov.
A choir sang, and people laid bouquets at the monument to the son of peasant serfs who is considered the father of modern Ukrainian literature and is a national hero.
Later Sunday, following an extraordinary meeting of the Ukrainian government, Yatsenyuk announced he would be flying this week to the United States for high-level talks on "resolution of the situation in Ukraine," the Interfax news agency reported.
But grim as the headlines from Ukraine are, the feeling in the capital is nothing like the cold fear that gripped Washington when children were taught to “duck and cover” and to know the locations of fallout shelters whose ominous black and yellow logos still dot some federal buildings around town. POLITICO’s White House reporters have not been given instructions to report to a top-secret site in case of attack, as NBC’s Sander Vanocur was at the height of the Cuban missile crisis.
Putin’s bulging pectorals may be menacing, but his bluster can’t quite compare to the growl of the Soviet bear in the days when Nikita Khrushchev threatened to “bury” us, and KGB cloak-and-dagger work in Washington was all too real. Early 1960s thrillers like “Seven Days in May,” “Fail Safe” and “The Manchurian Candidate” were scary because they were plausible (if nightmare) scenarios — not the sexy, “Mad Men” — era nostalgia of FX’s popular television drama, “The Americans.”
But as President Barack Obama’s GOP critics lambaste him, as John McCain did for a “feckless foreign policy in which no one believes in American strength any more,” it’s worth remembering that some things haven’t changed since the bad old days. Because even at the height of the Cold War, the United States generally held back from direct confrontation with the Soviet Union in the face of its most provocative acts within its own sphere of influence — and no American president has ever had good options to the contrary.