"2. Sanctions are a slow working medicine which perhaps doesn't work at all. How do you expect to keep Putin in the meantime in check?"
Here the stated assumption is that sanctions work slowly, if at all, but it is asserted ex cathedra without reference to any specific evidence. However reasonable the assumption is, it carries a hidden assumption that is at best dubious. That assumption, hidden in the word "medicine," is that sanctions are inherently good and proper instruments of restoring health, rather than tools for exercising control, or means of punishment or destruction. This also assumes that those applying the medicine are all good doctors following the imperative of the Hippocratic Oath -- first, do no harm.
Or, as the European Union might put it: if only we could do to Russia what we've already imposed on Greece, Portugal, and Spain. Of course those weren't sanctions, that was austerity, and it was for their own good to protect our good. Are you listening, Ukraine? We want only the best medicine for you!
Another assumption hidden in the way sanctions are defined is that probably the use of stronger medicine will be called for sooner or later -- so why aren't you ready to use force?
The assumption is that if the medicine doesn't work, or works too slowly, then America should employ sterner measures. And this is another rightwing New American Century talking point, albeit a second tier argument needed only when America has failed to be tough enough in the first place.
Then there's the assumption that Russian President Vladimir Putin needs to be kept in check. Given the volatility of recent events in Ukraine, there's good reason to see the Russian occupation of Crimea as an opportunistic tactic in the midst of chaos rather than part off some strategic grand plan for which there is scant evidence. Those who argue the grand plan idea have to go back to Georgia in 2008 and not much else but the projection of their fears, usually in a context free of uncomfortably contradictory and aggressive behavior by others during the same period.
The assumption that Putin needs to be kept in check becomes plausible thanks to another hidden assumption: that Putin is an evil person motivated by evil intent. This acceptance of the demonization of Putin is the result of great effort over a long time by much of the American media, the job of demonizing Putin abroad made so much easier by the closed media in Russia. Demonization is, by definition a false narrative, but it is accepted more easily when there is no credible counter-narrative. In a sense Putin's demonization becomes an East-West collusion that manages to serve the power politics on either side. If, in fact, the truth will set you free, why would any government want that?
The demonization is further a barrier to thinking clearly, by substituting the ad hominem caricature of a cartoon Czar for a rational assessment of the legitimate interests of the Russian state. Ruthless demonization is what Republicans and their ilk have done to President Obama since 2009, with the same basic intent: to turn a president into a legitimate target, based on a purely emotional appeal that is designed to elicit visceral hatred. Those demonizing either Putin or Obama can not afford to allow fact-based, rational discussion emerge, for fear that the result might turn out be some sort of peaceful settlement.
Perhaps the Dutch newspaper would have served us better by asking something to the effect of: can you apply sanctions with sufficient balance so that they do not become a new provocation to Russia but are still sufficient to keep American war hawks in check? And is that something you actually want to do?
"3. Is it still possible for countries like Ukraine and Georgia to become NATO member? How likely is it that we return to a situation of limited sovereignty for the immediate neighbors of Russia?"
Taking the words at face value, asking about the membership of Ukraine and/or Georgia in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is inherently absurd. These countries are nowhere near the North Atlantic.
In isolation, the question about "possibility" seems to assume that NATO membership for Ukraine or Georgia might be a good thing, and should be open to discussion. But the assumption that such expansion might still be possible is itself inherently threatening to Russian interests. Who benefits from raising the issue again in this new context? Certainly those who prefer to have opponents in the world, and who want to make those opponents afraid, will be happy to press the question of NATO membership ad infinitum.
If the NATO question was intended to be neutral, that neutrality is curdled by the coded message of the second question about "limited sovereignty." In a stripped down translation, the question amounts to a challenge: President Obama, are you going to allow a new Iron Curtain to come down across Europe?
That question is essentially the same as the initial question about fighting "the perspective that America withdraws." The argument behind these questions is circular for a reason -- because the questioner has already determined the correct answer, regardless of whether that answer is right, wrong, or irrelevant.
No wonder, then, that NBC considers these "the three best questions."