Co-authored by William Witenberg a contemporary artist focused on abstract painting
President Obama on Thursday said, 'The United States is today moving, as we said we would, to impose additional costs on Russia." The New York Times reports that these new sanctions are raising the costs if Russia were to annex Crimea.
The annexation of Crimea by Russia is a fact. Neither the threat of sanctions by United States and Europe prior to the Crimean referendum, nor the first actual sanctions after Putin signed the treaty accepting Crimea into the Russia, had any effect. These new sanctions announced Thursday are equally meaningless, and one can only wonder what message is being sent.
The new American sanctions target Putin's chief of staff, two individuals who have benefited from Russian government contracts as well as Bank Rossiya, a small Russian bank that is said to have Putin as a client. When added to the 11 individuals from prior sanctions this represents American's total response to date. This is literally the reverse of Roosevelt's, "walk softly and carry a big stick." The annexation of Crimea will not be reversed because of travel bans or economic penalties to powerful political Russians whose minimal exposure to the Europe and America can not compare to the nationalist logic Putin proclaimed in describing the annexation of Crimea.
Putin responded to these sanctions by refusing to allow travel to Russia by House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, and Sen. John McCain, as well as other senators and administration officials. John McCain joked now he had to cancel his spring break to Siberia. Well I am sure the Russians might jokingly add, and they will have to cancel their vacations to Disneyland.
If the true purpose of sanctions is to prevent any further annexations in Ukraine or send a message that sovereignty of countries on the borders of Russia must be respected then that has to be the message. But to suggest that Russia at this point can be forced to reverse course in Crimea will only serve to compound the problem.
Perhaps the reason these sanctions are so weak is because Russia is not Iran. Any strong sanctions will have serious consequences both for European countries and America. How great of a cost is Europe and America willing to pay to send a message to Russia?
There is no doubt that additional aggressive sanctions will bring retribution from Russia. Major American companies such as Exxon Mobil, General Electric, and Boeing are likely targets of any Russian retaliatory sanctions. At a minimum one can expect Russia's export of fossil fuels to Europe to be part of retaliatory actions from Russia. Will the European consumer accept the inevitable higher prices as a result of the need to send a message to Russia?
London is called Londongrade for a reason. So much Russian business is run through London it is not clear who needs whom more. Does London need the oligarch money more than the oligarchs need London?
With sanctions as a double edge sword it is important that the goal of sanctions be realistic. The worse outcome would be for sanctions to result in the destabilization of Ukraine, injury to European consumers, and harm to American business, without achieving a specific goal. That goal must be to prevent further intrusions by Russia into a sovereign Ukraine, a stabilized Ukraine and if the price of that is to allow the annexation of Crimea than the West must pay that price for the bigger gain of ending the potentially catastrophic effects of escalating sanctions.