economy

The US sanctions everybody but Putin

The US sanctions everybody but Putin

Economic sanctions don’t work, the truism goes, but sanctions are good at what they’re supposed to do, imposing a cost for unwelcome behavior. A Vladimir Putin wouldn’t act as he does if he weren’t willing to pay the price, but the U.S. and its allies are still better off making him pay it. The question is, should we be asking more from sanctions. Victoria Nuland, a top State Department official, said in an interview this week: “We have not been shy in the past about our sanctions with regard to folks close to President Putin and to things that matter to him. This threat has long hung out there, but the U.S. has actually been quite shy of actions that might destabilize Mr. Putin’s regime. Washington has limited but not closed off opportunities for his associates to secure their wealth in Western banks and real estate. The U.S. has tinkered around the edges of imposing sanctions on Russia’s energy exports with fitful opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. It hasn’t sought to embargo Russia’s oil sales with nonmilitary means, by making it hard for buyers and sellers to deal in dollars. Most of all, it has remained silent on a host of matters, some richly detailed in the public domain, about which our intelligence agencies should be able to add important information. These matters, if aired officially, would make it hard for other leaders to do business with Mr. Putin, undercutting his usefulness to his cronies. Of direct relevance today, the reasons are numerous for believing the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine in 2014 was a deliberate act. Accidents are functions of risk multiplied by time, but the Buk missile battery wasn’t sitting in eastern Ukraine for weeks or months. It was driven across the border from Russia, fired and driven right back. Mr. Putin used the incident to orchestrate pressure on Ukraine to curtail an offensive that was routing Russian-backed separatists. Phone intercepts show Putin aide Vladislav Surkov advising that such help was on its way. A model of such an “accident was conveniently at hand, the destruction of a Russian airliner by an errant missile in 2001. The purpose would have been identical to Mr. Putin’s today: to destabilize Ukraine before it destabilizes his own position. Ditto the dioxin poisoning of Ukraine’s pro-Western presidential candidate in 2004, not to mention more widely advertised outrages that we know about in detail from everyone except our intelligence agencies. Don’t overly invest in the guff Mr. Putin has lately been putting out, about Russia’s ancient geographic and military imperatives and the “historic unity of the Russian and Ukrainian people. The problem on his mind is short-term regime survival. If Ukraine emerges as a prosperous, democratic, Westernized country on his doorstep, a haven for thousands of ambitious Russians fleeing the Putin kleptocracy, he can start counting his days. Mr. Putin faces re-election in 2024. Every such occasion is a roll of the dice on mass protests, the willingness of his armed forces to fire on civilians, the loyalty of his “friends. The silence of Western intelligence agencies on the inner workings of so many Kremlin outrages, and the extent of Mr. Putin’s direct culpability, is notable not only to Mr. Putin. The other factor that enabled his rise was the need of the Yeltsin family and its retainers for immunity after surrendering power. But who is available to be Mr. Putin’s Putin? Nobody. His only insurance policy is the one he writes himself, by retaining power until his last breath. Absent is any domestic or outside power that can guarantee him a safe retirement as Saudi Arabia once generously did for Idi Amin. Western elected officials don’t go looking for intractable dilemmas to impale themselves on. Hence all those summits peering into Mr. Putin’s “soul and pursuing “resets. But Western sponsors can’t solve his basic problem for him. The chaos of the Yeltsin era and a boom in oil prices were initial gifts to Mr. Putin’s 20-year reign but they have long since been squandered. Renewing Russia’s socioeconomic progress, as the Kremlin itself has all but acknowledged, requires steps inconsistent with its leader’s political interests, such as allowing rule of law and disempowering his Mafia-like retinue. A subtext of Mr. Putin’s appeal to the West has been: If not me, somebody worse. But with each passing year, Mr. Putin’s dilemmas are turning him into somebody worse. Download.

economy 2021-12-12 Livemint