repeating this mistake in Ukraine. When Russia proceeded with the annexation of Crimea, the US and Europe responded with punitive measures that had some economic impact. But they did not by any means “go to the hilt.” Instead, the Americans and Europeans drew an even deeper line in the sand, issuing empty threats of sweeping sanctions if Russia tried to grab more territory in Ukraine. Such sharp rhetoric from the West could push Putin to be even more aggressive. That’s because he does not believe that the West would ever treat Russia like Iran and implement robust sanctions that would cut off vast areas of Russia’s economy from the West. As Putin recently explained, in a globalised world “it’s possible to damage each other — but this would be mutual damage.”
“Isolating Russia” as if it were Iran or North Korea isn’t a threat America can feasibly make good on. Just because Putin is acting like the leader of a rogue state, his country cannot be considered as such. Russia boasts the world’s eighth-largest economy. Given the exposure of American corporations to Russia, there would be serious pushback from the private sector if Obama tried to relegate Russia to rogue-state status. The Obama administration needs to preach what it will ultimately practise. Otherwise Washington’s credibility will erode further as it walks back its words. A more hard-line response is not the answer.
The Obama administration should focus on supporting Kiev rather than punishing Moscow. That means using its leverage with Europe to ensure that this support sticks, and that Ukraine’s new government does nothing to provoke an extreme response. This will require an acknowledgement of Russia’s core interests and America’s limitations — and an end to empty threats.
Ian Bremmer is president of Eurasia Group and a global research professor at New York University The New York Times