How Should the West Respond to Russia?
News reports indicate that Russia is now in control of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula. Though some MSNBC political commentators might still have no idea whose side they should be on, the rest of the democratized world is crystal clear on the fact that Russia's invasion of a neighboring country under the guise of protecting ethnic Russians is nothing short of a deliberate, self-serving act of war. The West should respond accordingly. But how?
By hitting Vladimir Putin where it hurts. He has spent the last 15 years trying to restore Russian glory and influence, so the West should do everything it can to deprive him of that. The West has five non-mutually exclusive options:
(1) Economic sanctions and asset freezes. The U.S. and EU should immediately hit Russia with painful trade sanctions. Russian kleptocrats, who enjoy spending their millions of dollars abroad, should be slapped with asset freezes and travel bans. Russia should also be ejected from the G8 and G20 and uninvited from any international meetings. (The G8 is for democracies, so it's unclear why Russia is a member, anyway.)
(2) Diplomatic isolation. All democratic embassies in Russia should be closed. The UN should remove Russia as a permanent member of the Security Council.
(3) Fast-track Ukraine to NATO and EU membership. A Ukraine fully integrated into the West is what Mr. Putin fears the most. The West should make it clear that its goal is to accomplish that sooner rather than later.
(4) Deploy NATO troops to western Ukraine. If Ukraine allows it, NATO should deploy troops into western Ukraine. If Mr. Putin finds this objectionable, NATO can claim to be protecting the interests of ethnic Ukrainians and other Europeans. Two can play at that game.
(5) Surround Kaliningrad with NATO troops. Kaliningrad is a Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea. It is surrounded by NATO members Poland (to the south) and Lithuania (to the north and east). Positioning troops along its border would be, by far, the most provocative action -- and one which might lead to an escalation in the conflict. However, it would also be a display of American-European strength and solidarity, something Mr. Putin would have to acknowledge.
Of course, any of these actions could provoke a retaliation from Russia. Other than more military posturing, the most damaging response would be for Russia to turn off its natural gas supply to Europe. They've done that before; in 2009, Russia turned off the gas to Ukraine. Gazprom, Russia's largely state-owned natural gas company, controls 30 percent of Europe's market. Gas prices would soar, and there would probably be brownouts, as well.
This is a tough situation, but one almost entirely of Russia's making. They should not be allowed to get away with merely a slap on the wrist.