THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS – And now begins the diplomatic dance.
In this well-manicured, meticulously scrubbed European capital, seven of the most powerful world leaders gathered Monday, 72 hours after Vladimir Putin formalized his annexation of Crimea in an elaborate ceremony in Moscow.
Russian troops put an exclamation point on that ceremony by using tanks to smash their way into Belbek airbase in Crimea Saturday, firing gunshots into the air and beating Ukrainian holdouts, sending them packing and on their way.
Ukrainian forces also abandoned a naval base and surrendered two vessels to Russian forces and pro-Russian protesters, capping a weekend in which the takeover was completed with both formality and force.
So what do Stephen Harper, Barack Obama and other G7 leaders, who meet in emergency session at the nuclear security summit, plan to do about it?
The challenge for a U.S. president who holds far less sway in Europe than he did in the heady days of his first term and the disparate views of European leaders and their North American confreres more able to talk tough on Putin with the luxury of distance will together test the alliance as much as it will test Putin's ambitions.
Germany, for example, imports 40 per cent of its energy from Russia and would fear a Moscow counterpunch. The United Kingdom's status as a global financial centre would be hobbled without Russian investment.
To hear Harper, nothing less than a complete reversal of the Crimean takeover is acceptable.
But he is fast becoming an outlier because in reality the leaders must bridge their own sizeable divides and try to cobble together a package of penalties that will halt further Russian aggression. Crimea is gone.
More harsh rhetoric alone from the leaders will merely evaporate into the Dutch night.
The goal is isolation of Russia on the world stage and possibly its expulsion from the G8, 16 years after it was welcomed into the club.
In Moscow's calculation, that would likely be a reasonable price to pay for the return of Crimea to the fold.
Some will argue anything short of a strong, substantive and enduring stand against Russia will merely push the G7 further into irrelevancy, its once muscular global standing already largely overtaken by the more powerful, emergent economies represented at the larger G20 summits.
"It's my view, my strong view, that we need to take strong action, we need to take co-ordinated action and that action needs to be in place and we need to be prepared to take that action for the long term," Harper said after a meeting with interim Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk in Kyiv on Saturday.
But Harper is not alone.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague, in an op-ed piece written for the Telegraph, said his European allies must not run in the face of Putin's bullying.
There must be a fundamental rethinking of relations with Russia, said Hague - the same message which came out of Washington Friday - meaning Russia be expelled from international organizations, face enduring restrictions on military co-operation and wield far less influence over the rest of Europe.
And, Hague said, Europe must wean itself from dependence on Russian energy.
Putin was giving typically reassuring signals about his plans as the spotlight turned to the Dutch capital, but NATO's top military commander suggested Sunday that the Russian president's next target could be a separatist region of Moldova.
U.S. air force Gen. Philip Breedlove, told a forum in Brussels that the troop build up on Ukraine's eastern border is large and well-trained and could easily move into the Russian-speaking enclave of Transdniester under the pretext of protecting Russian ethnic minorities in Moldova.
Civilian observers, including two Canadians, began arriving in Ukraine Saturday night under the auspices of the Organization of Security and Co-operation in Europe, but Putin notably barred them from Crimea.
First thing at Monday's meeting, the G7 leaders had to determine whether their actions so far are working. Stocks on the Russian market have lost about 10 per cent of their value and the Russian central banks has already spent more than $20 billion (U.S.) propping up a ruble hurt by foreign investors pulling out of the stock market.
Yet Sunday, Visa and MasterCard reversed course and agreed to resume payment service for its clients at Russia's SMP bank, meaning Western moves were - at best - taking two steps forward and one step back.
Harper will continue to talk tough. It plays well at home.
But his rhetoric will not play as well inside the summit meeting as it does with Ukrainian-Canadian voters.
Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column is distributed by Torstar Syndication Services. email@example.com Twitter:@nutgraf1