How Do You Solve A Problem Like Vladimir?

Russian President Vladimir Putin Visits Samara

Kirchick wants the full neocon jacket:

It is long past time that the United States and its NATO allies supply the Ukrainian military with the lethal aid it has long requested, so that it can at least defend itself and its airspace from Russia. NATO should deploy more troops to Poland and the Baltic states, which are understandably nervous about Russian designs on their territory and quietly doubt the Alliance’s Article 5 commitment stipulating that an attack on one is an attack on all. Sectoral sanctions that could cripple the Russian economy are also long overdue. And, if Russian involvement in this attack is conclusively demonstrated, Russia should be added to the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.

I don’t think all of this is necessary – yet. Very little is gained by ramping up a military conflict the US and Europe are not prepared to enter in any sustained way. And the key has to be Europe: they have the real economic leverage; their citizens are the dead; their security is at stake. As for sufficient toughness, Obama should get props for imposing new sanctions on the day of the outrage. He wasn’t caught by surprise this time. But for American sanctions to bite, the Europeans have to be on concert. My sincere hope is that this outrage will spur even the Dutch to greater resolve. Anne Applebaum thinks “we are about to learn whether the West in 2014 is as united, and as determined to stop terrorism as it was 26 years ago”:

When the Libyan government brought down Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, the West closed ranks and isolated the Libyan regime. Can we do the same now—or will too many be tempted to describe this as a “tragic accident,” and to dismiss what will inevitably be a controversial investigation as “inconclusive?” It is insufficient to state, as President Obama has now done, that there must be a “cease-fire” in Ukraine. What is needed is a withdrawal of Russian mercenaries, weapons, and support. The West—and the world—must push for Ukrainian state sovereignty to be reestablished in eastern Ukraine, not for the perpetuation of another frozen conflict.

The trouble, of course, is that Russia is slightly more powerful than Libya, don’t you think? And far more economically enmeshed with its European neighbors than ever before. And far more capable of inflicting damage on the rest of us – from sabotaging the talks with Iran to partnering with China in energy deals. But Anne’s right about the core issue:

this cannot stand or be dealt with in any inconclusive fashion. A formal apology for what was obviously a mistake, compensation for the victims’ families, and a verifiable end to the destabilization of Eastern Ukraine are all eminently doable. And yet they may also be something Putin cannot “man up” enough to do – for fear of appearing weak domestically.

Larison lobbies for far more caution:

The U.S. shouldn’t rush to take any action, and it should coordinate its response with its allies in Europe, especially the Dutch, since they have suffered the greatest loss and have the most at stake in this case. Russia should be called on to make a formal apology for the downing of the plane, and it should be expected to make restitution to the families and the countries of the victims. Slapping more sanctions on Russia will be as useless as ever, and pushing for additional sanctions is more likely to fracture whatever unity the U.S. and its European allies have in the wake of the disaster. There will understandably be a strong temptation to take some “tough” but foolish action now, but this is exactly the sort of outrage that requires a calm and cautious response so that it does not become the cause of even more bloodshed and conflict.

I understand the limits of economic pressure – and agree about coordination with the EU. But a calm response need not mean a weak one. Merkel is the key figure here. In some ways, she has Russia’s future with Europe in her hands.

(Photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at a meeting with regional officials during a visit to the Progress State Research and Production Rocket Space Center on July 21, 2014 in Samara, Russia. Putin is on a one-day visit to Samara. By Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images.)