U.S. should revoke MFN status and impose sanctions on Putin and Moscow if Russia intervenes in Ukraine


There are troubling signs that Vladimir Putin may order a military intervention in Ukraine. The propaganda from Moscow is so shrill and Putin’s understanding of Russia’s long term interests so dim, that it is actually conceivable that he would iintervene militarily in Ukraine.

Should he do so, his actions would sow Ukrainian enmity for generations.

The civilized world, including the European Union and the United States, could not let any such military intervention go unpunished. European and American sanctions against Russia would be likely to ensue quickly.

In the 21st century, authoritarian governments betting that steel and blood will open the path to the future are likely to be surprised by the power of ideas of freedom harnassed to the computing and networking power of peer-based communities, in which knowledge of events can no longer be suppressed, and leaks in electronic curtains inevitably grow in exponential fashion.

Military intervention in the Ukraine is the one thing Putin could do that could greatly hasten the speed with which the Maidan comes to Red Square.

Yet as Russian policies in Syria amply demonstrate, Putin is fully capable of making extraordinarily self-defeating decisions and policies. Russia’s “brand” is already severely tarnished by Syria. If Russia intervenes in Ukraine, the positive memories and gains in international prestige from the Sochi Winter Olympic Games could easily be replaced by memories of Stalin’s crimes, of Soviet tanks in East Germany in 1953, in Budapest in 1956, in Prague in 1968, in Kabul in 1980, and of Russian intervention in Georgia in 2008.

The results of Putin’s miscalculation in Syria is clear. From Syria, the new cradle of religious warriors, Putin and Russia will feel the “blowback” and baleful consequences of their support for al-Assad for years to come, in the Caucasus and beyond.

If Putin miscalculates again, if the Russians intervene in Ukraine, they can forget any illusions they might have had about being seen as a “normal” country by the civilized world. Where they once might have moved toward closer ties with Europe, they would now be seen as authoritarians antagonistic to European values and ideals.

They can also forget their recently-acquired MFN status with the U.S., and expect trade sanctions that may last even longer than did the Jackson-Vanik amendment.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.