WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s next steps in responding to the Russian intervention in Crimea are crucial, a Heritage Foundation panel said Tuesday.

Over the weekend, armed Russian forces made their presence felt in the Crimean Peninsula, a part of Ukraine, despite U.S. warnings against interference in the troubled nation.

How the U.S. continues to respond to the crisis is important, Heritage panelists said, not only for relations with Russia, but for the image of American foreign policy around the world.

“The stakes are too high to use Ukraine as a litmus test,” said Michael O’Hanlon, foreign policy research director at the Brookings Institution.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, to announce the U.S. will offer $1 billion in loans to the economically troubled country.

Kerry said  he thinks Russia is planning to “invade further.”

Obama made a statement Tuesday rejectedPutin’s claim that ethnic Russians living in Crimea need protection.

At the Heritage Foundation event, panelists said Obama has sent mixed signals in his handling of foreign crises.

“I can see Obama talking tough one day and extend[ing] an olive branch the next,” said Kim Holmes, a Heritage fellow. “He may actually be confused about what power actually is.”

Holmes said U.S. leaders should return to the mentality that military force deters war, not wages it, and military power should not be synonymous with  military intervention.

Obama has three audiences he must communicate with: Russia, U.S. allies and the American people, said Christopher Griffin, the executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative.

“The majority of Americans believe the U.S. should mind its own business,” Griffin said. Even so, “80 percent of Americans believe the U.S. should exercise global leadership.”

O’Hanlon said Obama’s response to this crisis will set the stage for how he deals down the road with Syria, Afghanistan and Iran.

He added the U.S. should demand that Putin clarify his intentions about the Crimean intervention and Russia plans to annex the peninsula.

If Putin attempts to restore former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, O’Hanlon suggested the U.S. impose heavy and long-term economic sanctions.