It has been two weeks since Russian troops left their bases in the Crimea and seized Ukrainian territory. The response by the West has been dismal and disappointing. The U.S. has imposed visa restrictions, Canada has recalled its ambassador, NATO has stopped joint military activities, and the EU has cancelled trade talks with Moscow. No one seriously expects these measures will induce Russian President Vladimir Putin to return control of the Crimea to Ukraine.
Describing Western actions against Russia’s aggression as half measures would be a gross exaggeration. Putin’s military invasion of Ukraine deserves at least a strong diplomatic and economic response from the U.S., Canada and Europe. But instead of prompt and meaningful sanctions against Moscow, the Western response has been lethargic and miniscule.
The West should sanction Russia now. It should not wait or do so in phases. We should be willing to suffer the costs of these sanctions because the costs will be greater on Russia and Russia’s armed seizure of the Crimea must not go unpunished. We must act knowing that strong sanctions against Russia will have a limited but harmful effect on our Western economies. But paying this price now is worth it for the sake of defending our values and security interests, both of which are at stake in Ukraine.
At a very minimum, the Western democracies should cancel all arms sales to Russia. This will hurt some allies more than others, but with solidarity, boldness and creativity, some of these costs can be shared by the international community. For example, instead of handing over an advanced warship such as a Mistral helicopter carrier to a belligerent Russia, perhaps a Mistral could be paid for by alliance common funding and serve as the flagship for NATO’s Mediterranean task force? With instability and violence continuing to grow in NATO’s southern flank, it would certainly be a useful asset in the region.
The Western democracies should also sanction the key source of Putin’s power, Russia’s energy sector. Like the arms embargo, energy sanctions will hit some allies, such as Germany and Italy, more than others. Germany and Italy may receive a third of their energy from Russia, but the energy market is global and they can purchase energy from other sources. Given the nature and actions of the Putin regime, it is also in long term interests of our allies to abandon their self-inflicted dependence on Russian energy and influence.
Russia on the other hand needs its energy exports to pay for about half of all its government spending. It is far easier for Europe to find alternative sources of energy than it is for Russia to find alternatives to European consumers. Losing the European energy market will hurt Putin much more than slightly higher energy prices will hurt Europe. The loss of the profits from selling energy to Europe would be a decisive blow against the Russian economy and a true threat to the survivability of Putin’s government.
If faced with such sanctions from Europe, who else would buy Russian energy? Perhaps the Chinese, but it would not surprise me if China negotiated better energy prices from Moscow than Europe did. In addition, Putin should worry less about a NATO alliance that continues to cut defense spending and shed military capabilities, and worry more about a China that has been increasing its defense budget for the last 19 years. How will Putin respond if one day Beijing cites his Crimea precedent and begins to concern itself with protecting the hundreds of thousands of ethnic Chinese in Siberia?
The truth is that Europe is in a much stronger position than Russia. Yet, this generation of leaders prefers to act as accountants rather than statesmen. They are too willing to sacrifice long term economic health, geostrategic interests and the security of Europe for the sake of protecting some tax revenue and jobs today.
Why isn’t there a Winston Churchill in London with the courage to stand up to a dictator that oppresses his own people and invades his neighbors? Why isn’t there a Charles de Gaulle in Paris willing to fight for la liberte and against foreign occupation no matter what the costs? Why isn’t there an Konrad Adenauer in Berlin willing to offend Moscow in order to act in solidarity with Germany’s allies?
How different would the history of Germany and all of Europe be if the allies had followed the Merkel model and responded with a “contact group” of negotiators in 1948, instead of the Berlin Airlift? Where is the Crimea Airlift of food and humanitarian aid to the brave Ukrainians in bases blockaded by Russian troops? In the 21st century we don’t even need military air transport to help the cause of freedom. We could and should send aid to Crimea through Amazon or Federal Express. This is another low risk option that the West could exercise if we were truly committed to supporting the Ukrainian people in their time of need.
What the leaders of the 21st century refer to as
“de-escalation” diplomacy, is still nothing more than a euphemism for
appeasement. The West is sending a clear message that Russian occupation is
contemptible but acceptable. The leaders of the U.S., Canada and Europe are
sacrificing security for the sake of misperceived short-term economic
interests. As a result, they are empowering Putin to create a future in which
they will have less of both.