Michael, beyond some largely symbolic gestures there is no sensible “military” way in which the West could respond to the Russian move in Georgia/South Ossetia. What’s more, encouraging the Ukrainians to adopt a more aggressive stance would be quite remarkably counterproductive (both for Ukraine and the US), especially so far as Sebastopol is concerned. Sebastopol is, as you know, located in Crimea, a part of Ukraine that is only within that nation’s borders as a result of an administrative decision by Nikita Khrushchev in 1954 (a decision that the Soviet dictator would have regarded of little practical consequence). The last thing that Ukraine needs is to give the Kremlin any additional incentive to meddle in its internal affairs — it does far too much of that as it is — in Crimea or, for that matter, anywhere else.
What we have to recognize is that Russia is a (sorta) great power trying to do what great powers do. This will involve plenty of jostling, shoving, pushing, and all the rest of it. It won’t always be pretty, particularly given the KGB-stained nature of Russia’s current leadership. On occasion, the U.S. will have to shove back, and shove back very firmly. That said, to try using what’s going on in Georgia (as some seem inclined to do) as the inspiration of some sort of revived Cold War is not the way to go. It’s critical to remember that what rivalry there is between the U.S. and Russia is not ideological to any meaningful degree. Moscow is neither Riyadh nor Tehran. Yes, yes, at some level, Russia is, and will remain, a strategic competitor. That’s fine. In a multi-polar world, that’s life. At, another, deeper, and more important level, however, many of Russia’s strategic interests are aligned with those of the U.S. The trick will be in getting the Kremlin to act on that ultimately reassuring fact.