Sanctions Redux

The US imposed new sanctions against Russia this morning, targeting seven cronies of Putin and 17 Russian firms:

Among those sanctioned were Igor Sechin, head of state energy firm Rosneft, and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak. A Russian deputy foreign minister was quoted as expressing “disgust” at the White House announcement. The European Union, with more to lose than Washington from sanctions against Russia, a major energy supplier and trading partner for the EU, is also expected to announce new penalties after member governments reached a deal, diplomats said.

The United States will deny export licenses for any high-technology items that could contribute to Russian military capabilities and will revoke any existing export licenses that meet these conditions, the White House said. It was the third round of sanctions that the United States has imposed over Crime and troop build-up on the border. All the sanctions have been aimed at individuals and businesses.

Max Boot sums up the emerging criticism from the right, that only sanctions on Putin himself will have any effect:

If you want to know why Putin is able to get away with his brazen aggression, here it is in a nutshell: a fundamental failure of will on the part of the U.S. and its European allies. Obviously nobody favors nuclear or even conventional military retaliation–we are not going to war with Russia unless it crosses some future line. But surely Putin has already crossed enough lines to justify the most severe possible economic sanctions we can inflict–including doing everything possible to deny him and his cronies the use of their illicitly acquired fortunes. The fact that we are willing to impose limited sanctions on some Putin pals but not on the master of the Kremlin himself says volumes about how fecklessly we are acting in the face of continuing and escalating aggression.

Considering Putin’s grand strategy, Posner doubts there’s much we can do to stop him meddling in Ukraine:

Putin is not interested in conquering his neighbors, which would be difficult to rule. He just wants them to be in Russia’s orbit. … This strategy is a less ambitious version of the Soviet Union’s strategy, and also not much different from what the United States did during the cold war, in places like Cuba and Nicaragua. It’s perfectly logical, and also likely to succeed because a big country cares more about its neighbors than other countries do, and can exert influence over them more easily than other countries can.

The implications for the West are also clear. It needs to decide whether the benefits of attracting Russia’s neighbors into the Western orbit are worth the risks of disorder that result from Russia’s retaliation.

But if Putin isn’t trying to conquer Ukraine, Andrew Foxall and Ola Cichowlas point out, he’s doing a terrible job of showing it:

Over recent weeks, Ukraine’s security agency has detained over a dozen individuals suspected of collecting intelligence for Moscow. Some were Ukrainian nationals, while others are suspected of being Russian “war tourists.” At least one was a Russian “spy” (albeit one apparently unaware that posting a photograph of herself holding an automatic rifle to VKontakte, Russia’s equivalent of Facebook, is not a usual part of espionage). Kiev has begun to limit the access of such individuals to Ukraine; it has ended unrestricted travel for Russians to the country and begun to turn away Russian journalists at the border. The rather farcical way Ukraine has gone about this, however, illustrates just how hard it will be for Kiev to find a workable approach. …

Russian tanks may not yet have crossed the Ukrainian border, but the Kremlin has already begun to invade eastern Ukraine. Moscow has infiltrated the Donetsk region with weapons more effective than Kalashnikovs: a new generation of Russian “liberators.” These men — convinced that Russia is surrounded by enemies and that only they understand what is needed to save it — are working overtime to restore “stolen” lands to the Kremlin. And they will not stop at Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Jamie Dettmer provides a reality check, recapping what has transpired since a deal to end the violence was signed last week:

Since the signing of the accord pro-Russian separatists in Slovyansk led by the thuggish former Soviet soldier Vyacheslav Ponomaryov have kidnapped more than two dozen people – including the town’s mayor; American reporter Simon Ostrovsky, roughing him up and holding him captive for two days; two Maidan activists; and five members of an official military mission from the OSCE, along with five Ukrainian military personnel accompanying them. Ponomaryov claimed responsibility for a successful grenade attack Friday on a military helicopter, injuring the pilot, in a nearby town.

In Kramatorsk, the police chief was kidnapped and the deputy mayor is languishing in hospital reportedly after being beaten up by pro-Russian militants for refusing to go along with a takeover last weekend of the town’s municipal building. There have been other reports of abductions across eastern Ukraine.

The most egregious separatist violence came early last week when the tortured bodies of Volodymyr Rybak, a local pro-Kiev politician, turned up along with the corpse of an unknown man. Ukrainian authorities blame Ponomaryov and Russian military intelligence officers they name as Ihor Strielkov and Ihor Bezlier for the murders. Ukrainian SBU officials say the Russians decided to kill the politician after he tried to raise the national flag on the municipal building in the town of Horlivska and he was transported to Slovyansk, they claim, where he was tortured and  Ponomaryov was ordered to dump the body.

Recent Dish on Ukraine here, here, and here.