In Crimea's aftermath, I strongly supported the Obama administration's call for stiff economic penalties. Russia's economy is vulnerable to sanctions. Meaningful U.S. and European Union economic sanctions, however, have yet to be imposed. A long-term U.S.-E.U. agreement to develop alternative energy resources that reduce dependency on Russia energy exports would truly damage Putin's regime.
I argued that economic sanctions were deserved but insufficient. Putin's arrogant disdain for diplomatic agreements demanded a NATO political response that affirmed alliance security commitments. In March I advocated permanently stationing a reinforced U.S. heavy-armor brigade in Poland. NATO would affirm the front line. There was also an outside chance that promising to permanently station U.S. combat forces in Poland might give Putin second thoughts about waging low-level war in Eastern Ukraine.
The MH17 massacre demands a sustained American and European response to the long-term threat posed by Putin's imperial ambitions. The objective is to create the political foundation for maintaining effective, long-term economic and diplomatic sanctions that will lead to meaningful behavioral changes and productive political changes in Russia.
The instruments for this already exist: NATO and the E.U. NATO needs to permanently station allied ground-combat units in Poland. Where and how many depend on Kremlin behavior? The E.U. must get serious about economic sanctions. This means focusing on energy alternatives to Russian supplies. The fracking revolution is about to make the U.S. a natural gas exporter. U.S. gas denies the Kremlin a potent political weapon. Unlike Russia, the U.S. is not going to threaten to shut off gas supplies to Paris, Berlin, Warsaw or, yes, Kiev. Putin has used oil and gas income to rebuild his military. Reducing that revenue hinders Russian Army modernization more effectively than a week of heavy air strikes.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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