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Published: Tuesday, 3/18/2014


Keep heat on Russia

Washington and the West must respond to the outrages in Ukraine with patient but firm resolve

Pro-Russian demonstrators celebrate in Sevastopol, Ukraine, on Monday after residents in Crimea voted  to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. Pro-Russian demonstrators celebrate in Sevastopol, Ukraine, on Monday after residents in Crimea voted to secede from Ukraine and join Russia.

To no one’s surprise, residents of the Crimean peninsula voted this week to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. The outcome of that sham “referendum,” which President Obama and other Western leaders properly declared a violation of international law, was foreordained when Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine this month.

Now that Mr. Putin has orchestrated an escalation of the Ukraine crisis, the United States and its allies must ratchet up the pressure in response. They need to impose economic and diplomatic sanctions that are tough enough to persuade Russia to reverse its aggression.

On Monday, the Obama Administration announced new sanctions — visa bans and asset freezes — on leading Russian officials it holds responsible for the seizure of Crimea and other assaults on Ukraine’s sovereignty. The White House, working with European nations, said it is prepared to do more to persuade Russia to change course.

It likely will need to keep that pledge. Targeting Mr. Putin’s Kremlin cronies is appropriate, but the sanctions should also apply to the Russian president himself and to the oligarchs in charge of major state-owned companies that prop up Russia’s economy and government, and are richly rewarded in return.

Sanctions must affect institutions too. Russian banks should not be allowed to do business in the United States and Europe while the occupation of Ukraine continues; if Europe won’t act in this area, President Obama still needs to.

Washington and the West must go further. It is time not merely to suspend Russia’s membership in the Group of 8 industrial nations, but to expel Russia at least until it abandons its adventurism. Its application to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development should be rejected.

Inevitably, Russia will impose its own sanctions, which will harm U.S. and other companies that do business there, and possibly inconvenience European consumers who rely on Russian natural gas. But Russia has far more to lose from its economic isolation from the West than it can gain from such retaliation.

At the same time, the United States and its allies must support Ukraine’s new, pro-Western government with economic and technical aid. It is reasonable to expect a return on this investment: free and fair elections this spring, reforms to stem rampant corruption, and a purge of extremist elements in the government.

A needed $1 billion loan guarantee by the United States to help Ukraine make pending debt payments is stalled on Capitol Hill over Democratic efforts to link the aid to reforms of the International Monetary Fund. Whatever the merits of the proposed changes, they shouldn’t delay the aid to Ukraine.

Holding urgent legislation hostage to extort concessions on unrelated issues is a popular tactic among Republican lawmakers. It is no more appropriate when the White House and congressional Democrats engage in it.

There is no need for direct military intervention by the United States or its allies in Ukraine. But the West must respond more quickly and adequately to Kiev’s reasonable pleas for military aid.

Russia can continue to play a constructive role in defusing political tensions in Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan. But it must be made to understand it won’t get a free pass in Ukraine or other parts of the old Soviet Union in return.

Mr. Putin does not seem ready to stop with Russia’s likely annexation of Crimea. Ominously, Russian troops reportedly occupied a Ukrainian gas plant and town outside Crimea late last week, and were massing near eastern Ukraine.

As with his invasion of the former Soviet republic of Georgia in 2008, Mr. Putin evidently will do whatever he thinks he can get away with in Ukraine. Dispelling that misconception will require patient but firm resistance by the West.

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