Sanctions For Sanctions’ Sake

Fred Kaplan thinks the sanctions the US imposed on Russia last week were a mistake:

[I]f Putin had been looking for some way out of this mess, he certainly wouldn’t be looking any longer, because de-escalating now would make it seem that he was backing down under Western pressure. Obama has had two long phone conversations with Putin in recent days, but as long as he insists on preconditions for renewed diplomacy (Putin must return his troops to their base, he must sit down with Ukrainian officials), Putin has no reason to comply. Russia has deeper interests in Ukraine than the West does—and more localized sources of pressure to make those interests felt.

That being the case, Putin can sit and wait. He has the upper hand in this game—and the more the West plays on his terms, the stronger his hand will seem. Sanctions won’t change his behavior, except to stiffen it—and once that becomes clear, Putin will seem stronger, the West will seem weaker, and a solution to the Ukraine crisis will recede in the distance.

Larison questions the utility of sanctions:

In general, trying to bludgeon another government into changing its behavior very rarely achieves anything positive, and the danger in trying this against a larger power is that it could then retaliate with punitive measures of its own. That would make the crisis harder to resolve and inflict damage on Western economies in the process, which would in turn spur demands for still harsher measures. Russia is already threatening to block inspections for the current arms reduction treaty, and it could choose to make things more difficult for the U.S. on other issues as well. Many Westerners seem very eager to demand economic punishment of Russia, but I suspect very few actually want to pay the price that could be associated with it.

Drezner approaches the issue from a different angle:

The first thing to understand about sanctioning Russia over its incursion into Crimea has nothing to do with the impact of the sanctions and everything to do with what is being demanded of Moscow. The United States wants Russia to withdraw military forces from a piece of territory they have long coveted. However much Russia has contravened international law over the past week, they’ve changed the facts on the ground. They control Crimea, and public opinion in that autonomous republic is pretty Russo-friendly. The current status quo for Russia is that they control that territory. In world politics, there is no greater demand to ask of a government than to make de facto or de jure territorial concessions. The domestic and international ramifications of such a concession are massive — especially after force was used to occupy the territory. So recognize that the demand being attached to the sanctions is so large that success is extremely unlikely.

Drum agrees:

For my money, the biggest price Putin is paying comes not from any possible sanctions, but from the very clear message he’s now sent to bordering countries who have long been suspicious of him anyway. Yes, Putin has shown that he’s not to be trifled with. At the same time, he’s also shown every one of his neighbors that he can’t be trusted. Two mini-invasions in less than a decade is plenty to ramp up their anti-Russian sentiment to a fever pitch.

Wise or not, sanctions are the most popular course of action, a new poll finds:

While almost 59 percent of Americans do support the U.S. and its allies imposing sanctions on Russia slightly over half oppose sending economic aid to Ukraine, and over 75 percent are against sending military supplies to Ukraine.

When it comes to possible military responses to the Ukraine crisis Americans are overwhelmingly opposed, with only 12 percent of respondents saying they would support having American troops on the ground in Ukraine and 17 percent saying they would support U.S. airstrikes on Russia forces in Ukraine.

Previous Dish on sanctions here, here, and here.