American and European governments are saying that they are not seeking to confront Russia militarily. But what else can you make of their latest broadside of sanctions aimed at the heart of the Russian economy?
To threaten a country's vital interests in the way that the US and the European Union are doing against Russia has to be seen as an implicit declaration of war.
This week, the EU finally went along with American pressure to hit Russia's key economic sectors. In previous months, the Europeans were, by and large, resisting Washington's shrill calls for punitive measures beyond the "symbolic" sanctions against a list of individual Russian business leaders and politicians.
Now the gloves have come off, with the EU announcing this week that it would apply the sectoral economic sanctions that the Americans have been imperiously blaring for.
The Financial Times reports: "The EU announcement of sweeping measures intended to cripple the Russian economy and convince the Kremlin to abandon its support for separatists in Ukraine was followed by a new round of similar US penalties."
Note here the stated intention to "cripple the Russian economy."
Meanwhile, the New York Times reported: "The United States and Europe kicked off a joint effort on Tuesday intended to curb Russia's long-term ability to develop new oil resources, taking aim at the Kremlin's premier source of wealth and power in retaliation for its [alleged] intervention in Ukraine."
Note here the "taking aim at the Kremlin's premier source of wealth and power."
This full-frontal assault on Russia's vital economic interests is tantamount to an act of war. All the more so because the Western sanctions are gratuitous, based merely on spurious claims, assertions, and non-existent "intelligence."
The Western stranglehold being mounted on Russia is reminiscent of the American embargo against the Japanese economy in the years leading up to the Second World War, when Japan was eventually provoked into launching an attack on the US at Pearl Harbour in 1941.
And, of course, the Islamic Republic of Iran has had to endure years of similar Western-imposed blockade of its economy, which many international legal experts have defined as "illegal acts of aggression" seeking a pretext for war.
Russia seems to be now on the receiving end of the same Western aggression - an aggression, we can be sure, that none of the Western states would tolerate for a second without themselves decrying as an act of war.
The newly unveiled Western sanctions on Russia will target the country's future oil exploration, its military industry and its international banking sector, with all state-owned banks now frozen out of American and European capital markets.
US President Barack Obama says "this is not a new Cold War." The American president is lying through his teeth. This is exactly what it is. You don't cripple a country's economy and its vital strategic interests if you are intending to conduct diplomacy. This is the politics of war-making, not diplomacy.
The deeply troubling thing for Moscow must be that it is being forced into an insoluble conundrum. As with Iran's alleged nuclear program, Russia is being asked to prove a negative.
Obama says that "Russia and Mr Putin have a choice... to cooperate or set international relations back decades by Russia's unwillingness to recognize that Ukraine can chart its own path."
By "Ukraine," Obama means the Kiev regime that his government installed last February in an illegal coup, which involved the murder of civilians and police by undercover CIA-backed snipers.
The EU warned Russia that "destabilising Ukraine, or any other eastern European neighboring state, will bring heavy costs to its economy." That's an hysterical demand that's impossible to satisfy.
But how exactly can Russian President Vladimir Putin "prove" that Russia is "cooperating" when it is Washington and its European allies that are the ones who have destabilized Ukraine by installing an illegal regime in Kiev - a regime that is now killing the people of eastern Ukraine resisting its illegal rule, and which is also shelling Russian territory?
In the twisted logic of Washington and its allies, Russia cannot possibly win this conundrum through rational and legal argument. It is damned without any evidence or reason as the villain, as in the days of the Cold War.
The objective of Washington towards Russia has nothing to do with alleged Russian destabilization of Ukraine, support for rebels fighting the Kiev regime, or the recent shooting down of the Malaysian airliner.
Washington knows full well that Moscow has got little or nothing to do with these issues. The airliner was most likely blown out of the sky by the Western-backed Kiev regime, with Washington's collusion, for the obvious geopolitical gain of cornering Russia with the latest sanctions.
What Washington wants is for Putin to capitulate and prostrate himself in front of American global hegemony. The downing of the Malaysian airliner was the American breakthrough in lashing the Europeans into adopting Washington's aggressive line. Now Russia is being told, in political code: do you want to go to war, or are you willing to lick Uncle Sam's boots?
Licking Uncle Sam's boots, that is, giving way to US hegemonic dictates, will involve Russia relinquishing or rolling back energy deals with China and Europe, abandoning recent ambitious plans to set up a global bank to rival the Washington-controlled IMF, and getting Russia to reverse moves on dropping the American dollar as the world's reserve currency. It will also entail Russia giving the US a blank cheque to carry out foreign interventions in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere where natural resources are to be exploited.
To demonstrate its acquiescence, Russia will be expected, as a first step, to accept the Washington-imposed criminal neo-Nazi regime in Kiev, and to turn a blind eye to this regime's murderous ethnic cleansing of Russian people in the east of Ukraine. By acquiescing to that, Russia will then be letting Uncle Sam know that it is prepared to bend the knee of submission to its global hegemony.
The latest sanctions attacking Russia are like a gun being pointed at Putin's head. It is an immensely provocative and outrageous act of Western aggression that has no possible justification. But it reveals the reckless extent to which Washington is willing to go in order to preserve its precarious empire.