Saturday, Jun 23, 2018
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Stronger sanctions, at last

After lengthy and difficult deliberations, the European Union agreed this week to a new and higher level of sanctions against Russia, including the closing of European capital markets to Russian state banks, an embargo on weapons sales, and the transfer of sophisticated oil-drilling technology.

The United States followed shortly with measures meant to match the Europeans’. It added a Russian shipbuilding firm to the list of companies that are banned from doing business with Americans.

These punitive, carefully orchestrated actions go considerably beyond any previous sanctions. They are designed to exact a heavy price from President Vladimir Putin, and deservedly so. Russia’s behavior since the downing of a Malaysian jetliner with the loss of 298 lives has been a string of lies and a sharp escalation of direct involvement in Ukraine.

Compounding the case against Russia are charges by the United States that Russia has violated a fundamental arms control accord, the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, by testing a prohibited ground-launched cruise missile.

The New York Times reported that Mr. Obama conveyed the finding to Mr. Putin on Monday. So far, there has been no public response from Moscow. The INF treaty, signed in 1987, bans testing, producing, or possessing such missiles with a range of 300 to 3,400 miles.

Economic sanctions are a flawed and double-edged weapon. But short of armed force, they are the only tools at the disposal of the West to make Mr. Putin and his revanchist-ruling clique understand that breaking the rules of international behavior carries a cost.

There can be no business as usual when Russia carries out armed aggression against a sovereign state, while enabling proxies in eastern Ukraine who shoot down an unarmed passenger jet.

Europe’s readiness to strengthen its earlier response — which consisted mainly of restrictions on individual Russians — and to join the United States in striking at the Russian economy shows that Europe’s leaders now grasp the magnitude of Mr. Putin’s threat. It also shows a commendable willingness to confront that threat, despite the difficulty of coordinated action by 28 European Union members, Europe’s heavy dependence on Russian natural gas, and the potential cost in lost jobs and contracts.

This change of view makes all the more troubling France’s continued determination to deliver at least one of the two Mistral-class warships it is building for Russia for about $1.6 billion. The Mistral is not heavily armed, but it is a serious military asset as a forward command post and helicopter carrier.

It is a formidable weapon. The idea that France is building two for Mr. Putin at this time is deeply troubling.

President François Hollande and other French officials have reacted angrily to American and British calls for the deal to be suspended. Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain has been sharply assailed in France for criticizing the French while keeping Britain’s doors open to Russian oligarchs who park a lot of their loot in London.

Britain cannot be exempt from making sacrifices in future sanctions; nor Germany, with its extensive exports to Russia, nor any other European Union member. But financial sacrifice is one thing; arming Russia is another. That is what the French should focus on, not the supposed slights of their allies.

It appears likely that France will go ahead with the delivery of the first Mistral, the Vladivostok, in October. But Mr. Hollande has left open the possibility of at least delaying the second one, which is due for delivery late next year.

One warship less may not hurt Mr. Putin as much as economic measures that shrink his economy and hurt his cronies. But a decision by France to suspend the deal would encourage other European countries to accept whatever sacrifices future sanctions might entail.

It would also make a statement about Western resolve not to appease Mr. Putin — and about French honor.

— New York Times

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