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Russia: Sanctions Are Not a Solution!

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Co-authored by William Witenberg a contemporary artist focused on abstract painting

On Monday and Tuesday America and the European Union announced new sanctions they are imposing on Russia and Russian individuals. These new sanctions will not be effective. They are suppose to, in the words of Obama, "change the calculus" of Putin's behavior towards Ukraine. These new sanctions can only succeed in underlining the inability of America and the European Union to come to any agreement on significant decisions. If these new measures changed any "calculus" for Putin, it is that he will conclude that the benefits of his actions outweigh the costs.

Proof of the meaningless nature of the sanctions came within hours of their announcement: pro-Russian separatists took over government buildings in the eastern city of Luhansk, raised separatist flags over the buildings, and fired upon police.

Inexplicably, President Obama thinks that American sanctioning of businessmen close to Putin will force Russian leader to change his foreign policy. For example, Igor Sechin, the head of Rosneft (a majority state owned oil company) is on the American list of sanctioned individuals. This means that his assets (if he has any in the United States) will be frozen and he can not get a US travel visa. Noticeably, he is absent from any European blacklist. What difference can it make to Putin if another executive from Rosneft takes Sechin's place in traveling to consummate the purchase of Morgan Stanley's oil trading arm that Rosneft plans to buy? Rosnfelt after it's takeover of TNK-bp in a $55bn deal is the world's largest listed oil producer. One can assume that Europe took no action against Sechin since British Petroleum owns 20% of Rosnfelt and because Europe is dependent on Russian oil and gas. Approximately one third of German fossil fuel needs are supplied by Russian Companies.

The asset freeze and visa denial by the European Union of General Valery Gerasimov, chief of the general staff of the Russian armed forces and country's deputy defence minister, is just as inexplicable. Can one imagine that Obama would change his foreign policy if Martin Dempsey, current Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs, was put on a Russian sanction list? One has to assume that military leaders would not want to argue for a policy change in any country, because of an asset freezes and visa denials.

If America's goal is to force Putin to change his foreign policy, i.e. specially to direct Russian speaking Ukrainians to halt the violent actions they have taken; then West has to focus on what the benefit to Putin is if he does reverse his policy towards Ukraine. Instead we are showing him that the cost of his policy is minimal, hence the benefit of changing is minimal.