Given Vladimir Putin’s deaf ear to warnings about his country’s brazen occupation of Crimea, there’s a good chance the Russian president will shrug off the latest sanctions announced Monday by President Barack Obama. Those penalties, however, are an appropriate step for the U.S. and its European allies to take, so long as Obama and his partners are ready to go further.
Obama signed an executive order Monday banning visas and, more importantly, freezing the U.S. assets of seven Russians and four Ukrainians. European leaders announced similar sanctions for 21 Russians but didn’t immediately say who they are. The U.S. list includes aides and allies to the Russian president, including one of his most influential advisers, Vladislav Surkov. The common thread: Each played a role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“We’re making it clear there are consequences for these actions,” Obama said Monday at the White House. The president left the door open to a diplomatic solution, although what that might be is unclear at this point. Crimea is occupied, and its citizens have voted in a Moscow-supported referendum to rejoin Russia. Putin seems unlikely to step away from all that he has choreographed thus far.
The U.S. and Europe, therefore, must be ready to expand sanctions if Putin formally annexes Crimea into Russia or moves militarily into the rest of Ukraine. Next up for the U.S. and Europe to target: Russia’s power brokers. That includes Vladimir Yakunin, president of Russian Railways, and Igor Sechin, chairman of Russian oil giant Rosneft. Also on the table: Blocking Russia’s financial sector from doing business in the U.S. or Europe.
All of which could come with a cost, especially to European countries. Russia is the EU’s biggest supplier of oil and gas, and Europe exports more than $170 billion in goods annually to Russia. Should Putin respond to sanctions with his own restrictions on trade, Europe and its businesses would suffer. Putin seems to be betting thus far that countries like Germany – which has a lot to lose from a ruptured relationship with Russia – will not back significant sanctions for a small slice of the Ukraine.
But it’s Russia that stands to lose the most economically in this standoff, and it’s encouraging that one of the loudest voices critical of Putin is German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She, President Obama and Europe’s other leaders should be patient with sanctions and unwavering in the face of Russian threats – be they economic or political. (Russia holds at least some sway in Iran and Syria.)
Monday brought a message – that the U.S. and Europe won’t tolerate Russia’s aggression. Should the Russian president continue not to listen, President Obama and our allies must speak even more clearly, and more firmly, with more economic and political consequences.
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