The EU and the U.S. are on the verge of deciding, once again, whether they will actually carry out their last round of threats. They stated, in the strongest terms, that they would impose third-stage, sectorial sanctions against Russia if Putin and Russia did not withdraw their forces from the border and halt their support of so-called “separatists” in the eastern Ukraine.
These “separatists”, it is worth recalling, are led by the Russian special forces and intelligence agents who launched the rebellion in the East, and their followers, now including thousands of Russian “volunteers” who–in the last month–have flooded across the border into the Ukraine, together with ground-to-air missiles, tanks and other arms and equipment.
The border was “opened” for the Russians and their “volunteers” by a well-coordinated military campaign of attacks against Ukrainian border posts and their supporting control centers.
In the last month, Putin has continued to play his “double game” of saying one thing and doing something else. He has not ceased support on the ground for the “separatists” who, despite the former KGB-man’s machinations in a new form of “stealth war”, we have every reason to believe remain under Putin’s direction and control.
The West threatened sectorial sanctions if Putin did not change course. He changed only–at the last minute–in his verbal formulations, in what he said to Western leaders, but not in his actions on the ground.
If we look at what has transpired in the last month, can anyone say with a straight face that Putin has met the West’s conditions for not imposing sectorial sanctions?
Those who have followed Putin’s maneuvering in Syria are quite familiar with his modus operandi, of saying just enough to throw the West into disarray and to defuse any momentum toward the adoption of real, hard-hitting sanctions or stronger action, only to resume the relentless pursuit of his goals once the concentration and motivation of the West and other civilized nations has dissipated.
A fundamental question facing the West in deciding whether to defer sectorial sanctions and try to use them–again!–as a threat to induce Putin to act the way they want, is whether they want to continue devoting this enormous amount of energy and degree of concentration to the perfidious president of Russia, Vladimir Putin. Or, might they prefer to move on, to contain Russia through concrete actions, and then to devote their energies to building Europe and restoring the vitality of the Atlantic Alliance and its leadership.
Putin is not going to change. He is not going to become the democrat that Boris Yeltsin once thought he might become. He is someone the West can never trust again.
Moreover, the U.S. doesn’t really need Russian assistance to get out of Afghanistan, or to deal with Iran and the nuclear issue through the “five plus one” (5 +1) talks. Russia is not America’s friend, and won’t be again so long as Putin remains in power.
Consequently, the choice facing the West is whether
(1) to continue playing Putin’s game, on his terms, where all attention is directed toward him and what he might say or do, or not do; or
(2) to finally act forcefully in the face of the Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimea, and the ongoing Russian “stealth” invasion of the eastern Ukraine, by taking hard actions to contain Russia, halt its aggression, and restore observance of international law. The latter is of paramount importance, and includes the principles of the U.N. Charter prohibiting the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any country, including the Ukraine.
Containment will require, at some point and sooner rather than later, the forward deployment of NATO troops in the front-line states of Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, and Romania.
Moreover, Russia needs to be pushed hard by the West and other civilized countries on the issue of its observance of human rights. We should not remain silent in the face of an increasingly repressive authoritarian regime whose “democracy” has become no more than a “Potemkin village”. The Magnitsky Act should be enforced.
Nothing is to be gained by further delay of sectorial sanctions. If the threat of such sanctions is ever to be credible in the future, repeated threats in the past must now be executed in view of Putin’s failure to comply with their conditions.
That doesn’t mean that measures like the OSCE monitoring of the border and of the situation in the eastern Ukraine need not be pursued, or that negotiations within the Ukraine under OSCE auspices must be halted.
It means only that the West, having called Putin’s bluff, will be in a stronger position to deal with him and Russia.
It will bring home to Putin, through actions and not mere words, that the EU, NATO, and the U.S. have finally gotten serious about putting an end to his aggression and redressing its consequences.
The Trenchant Observer
Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
El Observador Incisivo