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Stronger US Economic Sanctions Urged Against Russia

Apr. 16, 2014 - 08:10PM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
Armed men wearing military fatigues gather around armored personnel carriers as they stand guard outside the regional state building seized by pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on April 16. (GENYA SAVILOV/Agence France-Presse)
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WASHINGTON — The Obama administration should enact stiffer economic sanctions on Russia, but it’s unclear whether such moves will lead Vladimir Putin to stand down in eastern Ukraine, say several former US officials.

None of the experts and former officials assembled for a McCain Institute event suggested the United States and its European allies should confront Russian military in Ukraine, or beyond, should Putin set his sights on seizing ground in another former Soviet-era state.

All appeared to agree, however, that actions tougher than those employed to date by the Obama administration will be needed to persuade Putin to cease efforts that appear aimed at destabilizing eastern Ukraine to set the stage for a Crimea-like invasion and occupation.

David Kramer, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor from March 2008 to January 2009 in the George W. Bush administration, said “strong pushback” is needed against Putin, whom he dubbed “the most serious threat the international community has faced in decades.”

“If we say Russian actions are unacceptable, what are we going to do to make it unaccepted?” Kramer said. “Tough, hard-hitting sanctions” should be implemented “in face of naked Russian aggression.”

While the administration has put in place some sanctions on Russian individuals, Kramer called those “only first steps.”

Kramer then departed from other former officials and experts at the event, arguing against a new policy of “containment” like the one heralded as helping the United States defeat Russia in the decades-long Cold War.

Andrew Weiss, who was a senior National Security Council staff official, a member of the State Department’s Policy Planning staff and served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense during the Clinton and George H.W. Bush administrations, issued the event’s most-chilling assessment of the situation in Ukraine: “We may be seeing these two countries in the very heart of Europe nose-diving into war.”

Weiss cautioned against any inside-the-Beltway rush toward a new “containment” policy, saying the same kind of “one-size-fits-all approach” likely would fail today.

America’s allies are weaker today and less inclined to poke the Russian bear for a number of reasons, mostly economic, he said.

“We had stronger partners then,” Weiss said. “Where are the partners for the United States today? Will [a containment] approach succeed if we do it ourselves? I have my doubts.”

Another reason for his skepticism: The US “is not in the same position as the 1940s to dictate the terms of Russia’s participation in [the global economic] system,” he said.

“That was a very different period in history,” Weiss said. “Russia today is part of the globalized economy.”

Anders Aslund, who has studied Russia and Europe in various academic and think tank positions, including at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was the most hawkish.

He called Russia a “revisionist power.” Aslund also called for stiffer sanctions, but raised the possibility that the West might not be able to prevent future aggressive acts by Putin with only economic moves.

Aslund described Moscow as “vulnerable.”

His policy prescription would be to “sanction the big state [-owned] banks.” Do that, Aslund said, “and Russia is done.”

“President Putin is foolishly overplaying his hand,” Aslund said, “and only the foolish would not stand up to him.” ■


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