Meanwhile, the Europe’s political leaders are caught in a quandary. The European public is properly outraged that more than two hundred EU citizens, mostly Dutch, were murdered in cold blood. However, with a few notable exceptions, the political and business elites are reluctant to do anything that might endanger their commercial relations with the Kremlin. And further looming over the EU is its dangerous reliance upon Russian energy supplies.
Vladimir Putin will never accept responsibility for the grievous consequences of his reckless policies. And he is undoubtedly hoping that his minions on the ground in Ukraine have removed enough evidence of Russian complicity to maintain a fiction of plausible deniability, no matter how flimsy. If the case against the Kremlin’s involvement is even slightly muddled by destroyed evidence, that will be sufficient for both the Russian public and Europe to let Putin off the hook for his criminal deeds.
Only the United States can stop Putin from getting off scot-free from his monstrous crimes. He and his cronies believe that none of the sanctions Obama has imposed to date truly affect their vital interest. But Obama can and should employ more biting financial and trade measures to make the Kremlin feel perceptible pain. And the U.S. should accelerate existing plans to export American natural gas to Europe and eventually undercut Putin’s strategy of energy blackmail.
But America has one very effective means of punishing Russia for its transgressions of basic norms of international decency and order. Putin is still determined to continue his policy of destabilizing Ukraine by continuing the covert war he initiated. The U.S. should begin to provide the legitimate government in Kiev with equipment and intelligence so that is can regain full control over its territory, protect its citizens from an illegal Russian backed insurgency, and defend its sovereignty.
A policy of more robust support for Kiev’s government would represent a determination to preserve peace and stability in a strategically important region, and it would demonstrate to Putin in the only language he understands that his efforts to undermine international order are ultimately doomed to failure. It won’t bring back the victims of Putin’s war, but it might bring an end to his warmongering. And in the longer-term, delivering a convincing rebuke to his schemes abroad could hasten his eventual and long overdue downfall.