In pay now or pay later world, sanctions worth the risk

Staff Writer
Chillicothe Times-Bulletin

It’s good to see Europe manning up regarding Russia.

Earlier last week, with prodding from the U.S., the European Union got behind significantly harsher economic sanctions against the nation run by bad boy Vladimir Putin, seeking to punish the Soviets at heart in their energy, arms and financial sectors.

All it took was shooting down a defenseless commercial airplane and murdering a couple hundred Europeans on board, which has Russia’s fingerprints all over it as Moscow sponsors and nurtures a separatist insurgency in Ukraine while pretending it isn’t.

To be fair, Europe has a lot more to lose from these sanctions than the United States does. For one thing, they’re dependent on Russia’s natural gas. Should they stop buying it, the U.S. would have to find a way to help them replace it, while seeing to it that they don’t get socked. Beyond that, it’s easy for the White House to reprimand France for selling arms, specifically a couple of warships, to the Kremlin, but were it a U.S. weapons manufacturer in the mix, it might be a different story.

There’s also no guarantee that the sanctions will work. They can be a double-edged sword, inflicting damage on the targeter as well as the targeted, and they can steel the resolve of an enemy which is likely to remain that way for a while as a result. Beyond that, sometimes other pivotal players enter the picture in ways that can undermine an embargo’s effectiveness. China is a wild card here, as it so often is in global events. Recently Beijing took a considerable amount of pressure off Putin by inking a 30-year, $400 billion deal for Russia’s natural gas, making it far easier for Moscow to absorb any boycott from Europe. In short, sanctions carry a risk.

And so this move by the European Union is both welcome and worthy of a thanks, even if it doesn’t go as far as some on this side of the ocean would like. There’s nothing to preclude tightening the screws down the road if Putin remains unrepentant.

That’s possible, as Putin seems unfazed so far, at least publicly taking on something of a “make my day” posture, calling this an opportunity for Russia to become more self-reliant. Should he take the emotional, macho road rather than the rational one, he might even double-down in Ukraine, perhaps sending in the real Russian Army. He remains quite popular at home. We have to be prepared for all that.

First, it’s been said that the way to get to Putin is by getting to those around him. His oligarchs have significant assets in Western banks, so freeze them. Closing European capital markets to Russian state banks could have an impact on jobs if entrepreneurs can’t get access to the billions they need to invest. Meanwhile, no longer trading with Russia poses the challenges of finding other markets to replace those lost revenues. How about selling weapons to Ukraine, so we can make more competitive the civil war Putin evidently wants there?

Ultimately, there must be consequences for breaking the rules of international conduct that allow us all to co-exist. Isolate

Moscow and perhaps even a Beijing that has spent the last few decades peeking outward, for a change, will get the message. History is persuasive that tyrants are not to be appeased. If you don’t draw a line early, you run the risk that later they’ll be at your doorstep, with costs that make these sanctions feel like pennies by comparison.

Obviously Europe is walking through this door now because it fears the reemergence of Moscow’s imperialist impulses.

Meanwhile, this week the White House charged that Russia was violating its 1987 arms control accord with the U.S. by testing ground-launched, medium-range cruise missiles, which it didn’t even bother to deny. Ronald Reagan wasn’t wrong about that “evil empire.”

Ultimately, the only thing a bully like Putin understands is muscle. It’s worth the risk of exercising ours with these sanctions.

—GateHouse News Service