Last week, as the Ruble collapsed in value against the US dollar and a full-blown financial crisis threatened to explode in Russia, President Barack Obama planned to sign a piece of legislation that essentially amounted to a declaration of war on Russia. What is the US playing at, when Russia seems to be in no mood to back down? Russia’s relations with the US may be irreparably damaged. Has the shale oil boom made the US so confident? Does the Cold War yet have fire in its belly?

One can easily imagine an accident leading to outright conflict: a Russian bomber could collide with a European civilian airliner in or near NATO airspace. A technological glitch could prompt either Russia or the United States to conclude the other has launched its nuclear missiles… a dilemma previously faced by the Soviet Union when it mistook the 1983 NATO exercise Able Archer for an actual attack.

The real question is: will Putin, after having gone through so much political manoeuvring in returning the Crimean Peninsula to Russia, publicly surrender to US lawmakers? Will he apologise to the Ukrainian leadership in Kiev? Not likely. This is what the United States and Europe need to offer, in writing, to Russia- that Ukraine will remain neutral and not join NATO. NATO doesn’t want Ukraine anyway, given the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine. NATO crushing Ukraine’s hopes might be enough of a compromise for Putin. Anything else just amounts to poking the bear and that’s what is happening. In November, the Kremlin requested that Ukraine not join NATO, presumably in exchange for helping foster peace was rebuffed. Why, when Germany and France don’t want NATO enlargement anyway?

The latest in the US assault on Russia, the belligerent Ukraine Freedom Support Act, only makes the inevitable and necessary reconciliation with Russia all the more difficult. And that’s the last thing Russia, or the United States, or Ukraine need.