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US sanctions everyone except Putin

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Economic sanctions don’t work, the truism says, but sanctions are good for what they’re supposed to do, imposing a cost for unwanted behavior. A Vladimir Putin wouldn’t act the way he does if he wasn’t prepared to pay the price, but the United States and its allies had better make him pay.

The question is, should we ask for more sanctions. Victoria Nuland, a senior State Department official, said in an interview this week: “We haven’t wavered in the past about our sanctions on those close to President Putin and the things that matter. for him. “

This threat has been around for a long time, but the United States has actually been quite timid of actions that could destabilize Mr. Putin’s regime. Washington has limited but not closed the opportunities for its associates to secure their wealth in Western banks and real estate. The United States has tinkered around imposing sanctions on Russia’s energy exports with intermittent opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. It has not sought to impose an embargo on oil sales from Russia. Russia with non-military means, making it difficult for buyers and sellers to negotiate in dollars.

Importantly, he has remained silent on a host of issues, some of which are richly detailed in the public domain, on which our intelligence agencies should be able to add important information. These questions, if released officially, would make it difficult for other leaders to do business with Mr. Putin, reducing his usefulness to his friends.

Of direct relevance today, there are many reasons to believe that the downing of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine in 2014 was a deliberate act. Accidents are time-multiplied functions of risk, but the Buk missile battery did not stay in eastern Ukraine for weeks or months. He crossed the border from Russia, was fired and turned back immediately. Mr Putin used the incident to orchestrate pressure on Ukraine to curb an offensive that routed Russia-backed separatists. Telephone interceptions show Putin’s aid, Vladislav Surkov, indicating that such aid was on the way. A model of such an “accident” was conveniently at hand, the destruction of a Russian airliner by a stray missile in 2001. The goal would have been identical to that of Mr. Putin today: to destabilize the Ukraine before it destabilizes its own position.

Ditto for the dioxin poisoning of Ukraine’s pro-Western 2004 presidential candidate, not to mention the more widely publicized outrages that we know in detail by everyone except our intelligence agencies. Do not invest excessively in Mr. Putin’s speech on the old geographic and military imperatives of Russia and on the “historical unity” of the Russian and Ukrainian peoples. The problem he has in mind is the regime’s short-term survival. If Ukraine emerges as a prosperous, democratic, westernized country on its doorstep, a refuge for thousands of ambitious Russians fleeing Putin’s kleptocracy, it can begin to count its days. the dice of mass protests, the willingness of its armed forces to shoot civilians, the loyalty of its “friends”.

The silence of Western intelligence agencies about the inner workings of so many attacks in the Kremlin, and the extent of Mr. Putin’s direct culpability, is not only notable for Mr. Putin. The other factor that enabled his rise was the need for immunity from the Yeltsin family and their servants after they surrendered power. But who is available to be Mr. Putin’s Putin? Anybody. His only insurance policy is the one he underwrites himself, retaining power until his last breath. Absent is any power inside or outside that can guarantee him a safe retirement, as Saudi Arabia once generously did for Idi Amin.

Western elected officials are not looking for insoluble dilemmas on which to impale themselves. Hence all these summits which scrutinize the “soul” of Mr. Putin and pursue “resets”. But Western sponsors cannot solve his fundamental problem for him. The chaos of the Yeltsin era and soaring oil prices were the first gifts in Mr. Putin’s 20-year rule, but they have long since been wasted. Renewing Russia’s socio-economic progress, as the Kremlin itself almost recognized, requires measures incompatible with the political interests of its leader, such as allowing the rule of law and abolishing its rule. mafia power.

A subtext of Mr. Putin’s appeal to the West was: If not me, someone worse. But with each passing year, Mr. Putin’s dilemmas turn him into someone worse.

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