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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

By Paul Richter, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has a variety of ways he can make good on his threat to make Russia pay “costs” for its military intervention in Ukraine.

But it’s not clear any of them will make a difference to Russian President Vladimir Putin, or whether they might simply underscore the United States’ relatively weak hand in the unfolding Ukraine crisis.

The U.S. and its European allies can take steps to isolate Russia diplomatically, which would undermine Putin’s claim that his country is again ascendant as a world leader. They can also take steps that would pinch the Russian elite, which relishes its access to Western Europe.

Some of the moves would sting. But none is likely to greatly change the behavior of Putin, experts say.

“Putin is prepared for this kind of international backlash,” said Eugene Rumer of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who was the U.S. national intelligence officer for Russia until December. “In his mind, this won’t be paying too much of a price.”

Obama sought to step up the pressure Saturday, telling Putin in a 90-minute phone call that he would cancel U.S. participation in a June meeting of the Group of 8 leading industrial nations in Sochi, Russia, unless Moscow stopped what he called its “breach of international law.” He threatened “greater political and economic isolation” of Russia, and said the United Nations would consider action on the issue.

U.S. officials are also threatening to rebuff Russia’s expressions of interest in new trade deals and are likely to scratch a possible meeting between the two presidents discussed for sometime this year.

In addition, the administration and European allies could limit visas for travel by some members of the Russian elite, which would be uncomfortable. Many of the country’s elite enjoy their travel, own homes in Western Europe and count on sending their children to European schools.

Some North Atlantic Treaty Organization members in Eastern Europe have asked to consult with others in the alliance, a step that usually leads to a strengthening of NATO forces in the region. Russia won’t like that. And the U.S. may announce troop deployments in the nearby countries, and perhaps naval deployments, to make a visible demonstration of their readiness.

But a senior Pentagon official said Saturday that there had been no request from the White House for military options for Ukraine and no change in the posture of U.S. forces in Europe.

Putin’s action also probably means that the U.S. and allies will go ahead with their plans for a missile defense system in Eastern Europe, which has drawn angry denunciations from Moscow.

  • wjca

    There is an economic option, although it isn’t actually sanctions. Ramp up gas production, and start supplying Europe from here. Nothing would hurt Russia more than losing its income from gas sales to Europe.

    That couldn’t be done overnight, of course. But it could be done before next winter, which is when Europe’s need for gas goes up again.

    • Sand_Cat

      Sorry, but I have to disagree: the ill effects on the US of increasing gas production by current means seems likely to damage us more than Russia.

  • Independent1

    Putin spent a ton of money, over 50 billion, putting on the winter olympics with the hopes of gaining prestige for Russia and turning the area around Sochi into a tourist draw to hopefully recoup some of those billions. It’s possible that a lot of negative press from Russia invading the Ukraine could destroy any “prestige” Putin in fact developed with the Olympics and it could put a big damper on Sochi becoming a tourist attraction for a lot of Europeans and even Americans who may not be too pleased with Putin’s heavy handed tactics. Invading Ukraine could turn into a really big mistake with respect to recouping any of the billions invested in the Olympics.

    • disqus_ivSI3ByGmh

      If you remove the bribes, some of which went into Vladimir Vladimirovich’s private accounts, the actual cost for putting the Sochi games on was probably only 30 billion. Putin has been rightly described as a narcissistic autocrat. Everything he does is to make HIM look more important. This includes his “invasion” of the Crimea. I use quotes around that word because there was already a significant Russian military presence in the Crimea as there has been for the last 250 years.
      Putin’s dream is to restore Russia to the territories it held during the height of the Tsarist era. Stalin politely “allowed” the autonomous Republics, but he still made sure each had a significant number of Ethnic Russians forcibly moved to them. This would ensure if a “Republic” wanted to exercise more independence, the Soviet Union could send in the troops to protect the interests of the Ethnic Russians. Well, Putin was allowed to do that to Georgia, with its two breakaway “independent states”, and now he is trying to do the same to the Ukraine!

      • FredAppell

        You nailed it. Putin doesn’t care about the money, if he did, he wouldn’t have had his military deployed so quickly. Any expert in military planning and logistics could easily confirm this. He has intentions of testing the West, more specifically, us! He’s probably had this planned a long time, it’s Hitler all over again as your comment alludes to. I never did support a MDS in Eastern Europe, however, now it seems it may be necessary at most, or at the very least a good bargaining chip.

        • sigrid28

          What Putin seeks is to include Ukraine in a Eurasian Union and never let it become part of the European Union, which is what people in the public square in Kiev want. I cite below several sentences from an excellent essay in the “New York Review of Books,” which explains why Ukraine’s choice of the European Union forced Putin to invade the Crimea, rather than simply reinforce the Russian Federation’s sea port there:

          “The Eurasian Union is the enemy of the European Union, not just in strategy but in ideology. The European Union is based on a historical lesson: that the wars of the twentieth century were based on false and dangerous ideas, National Socialism and Stalinism, which must be rejected and indeed overcome in a system guaranteeing free markets, free movement of people, and the welfare state. Eurasianism, by contrast, is presented by its advocates as the opposite of liberal democracy.

          The Eurasian ideology draws an entirely different lesson from the twentieth century. Founded around 2001 by the Russian political scientist Aleksandr Dugin, it proposes the realization of National Bolshevism. Rather than rejecting totalitarian ideologies, Eurasianism calls upon politicians of the twenty-first century to draw what is useful from both fascism and Stalinism. . . .

          After Stalin’s death communism took on a more and more ethnic coloration, with people who wished to revive its glories claiming that its problem was that it had ben spoiled by Jews. The ethnic purification of the communist legacy is precisely the logic of National Bolshevism, which is the foundational ideology of Eurasianism today.” From “Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine,” by Timothy Snyder, ” “The New York Review of Books,” March 20, 2014, pp. 16-17.

          So Putin and the Russian media he controls call the Ukrainian demonstrators neo-Nazis when his orientation is replete with both fascism and anti-Semitism. He does this, in Snyder’s view, to make the West back off and to take the wind out of a robust defense of Ukrainians rejecting the Eurasian Union and all it stands for. In so doing, he takes us for fools. The demonstrators in Kiev are not fooled, however. They know what they are in for if they let Putin and the Eurasian Union control their future.

          • FredAppell

            Much thanks, a million times over, for that very valuable explanation to the root of the problem.
            It certainly explains the missing pieces to the stories coming out Sochi, Crimea, Russia and the Ukraine.

          • sigrid28

            Right back at you, Fred. I know you will appreciate the whole article by Timothy Snyder that I cited. I hope you get to read it.

  • Sand_Cat

    I don’t mean in any way to excuse Russian behavior, but I understand that the aggressive recruiting by the US of former Warsaw Pact countries to join NATO violated a “gentlemen’s agreement” between the US and USSR governing the withdrawal of Soviet forces from “allied” countries. The even more aggressive recruiting of Russia’s neighbors to accept missile defense (do they work yet?) installations hasn’t helped Russia feel secure, either. Yet, as usual, there isn’t the slightest consideration given to how the US and its allies might have contributed to this little fiasco. Why is Putin popular? Certainly, the Russian people as a whole may be even more ill-informed than those in our country, but he hasn’t had to make up unfriendly actions to make the people feel they need a strongman, preferably one disliked by the West.
    So now, we’re confronted with a crisis and no acceptable options to resolve it. I’m surprised the trolls aren’t already here invoking Munich (again), but I guess most of them have been banned.