The West’s lenient attitude toward Russian acts of aggression has served only to embolden Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Refreshingly, on the heels of the recent poisoning of former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal in the United Kingdom, there has been a uniform response.
In fact, the world may have just witnessed “the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in history.”
Over 100 Russian intelligence officers have been ejected from a variety of countries, including 60 from the U.S., 23 from the U.K., and 13 from Ukraine, just to name a few. Furthermore, the U.S. has shuttered the Russian consulate in Seattle.
Russia’s reciprocation came with a fervent denial of any connection to the Skripal poisoning incident.
While British scientists have admittedly been unable to prove that the poison utilized in this recent event originated from Russia, the Ministry of Defense remains confident in its assertion of Russian culpability.
Such an assertion is credible given Russia’s track record of assassinating its undesirables, paired with the fact that the poison used against Skripal has been identified as belonging to a group of nerve agents called Novichok. Novichok was created by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Such reckless behavior cannot go unaddressed. Given that Russia capitalizes on the West’s fleeting resolve, Western unity in punishing Russia is the grounding it deserves.
This is not to say that Russia’s behavior has not previously come without consequences, as a litany of sanctions have been applied by the European Union and the U.S., including a new round as part of the recent $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill recently signed into law by President Donald Trump.
However, Putin has generally remained undeterred by such sanctions, and while the latest diplomatic repercussions send a strong message, they do not go far enough.
The fact is, 87 percent of the totality of Russian wealth is held in the hands of 10 percent of its richest people, and a total of 110 oligarchs effectively hold one-third of Russia’s overall wealth. Thus, for the common Russian citizen, economic conditions have not changed much since the inception of sanctions up to the present day.
The benefit of imposing sanctions under these circumstances is that in targeting specific oligarchs—with so-called “smart sanctions”—the general populace remains relatively unaffected, thus reducing the collateral damage that sometimes accompanies the sanctioning process.
With the momentum that has come from Western solidarity against Putin’s repeatedly deplorable behavior, the West should strike while the iron is hot. The scope of sanctions should be broadened so as to target Putin himself.
This course of action would not be without precedent, as Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was sanctioned back in 2004 in response to human rights violations that occurred under his watch—violations that ultimately ceased thereafter.
By escalating sanctions, the West demonstrates its intolerance for Russia’s abuse of international norms and values. The bear must not be appeased, but instead compelled into hibernation.
While sanctions are by no means the end-all-be-all to the Putin regime, such a crescendo of countermeasures—if rigorously enforced and unwaveringly sustained—would send a clear message to Putin and his cronies: Russia’s misconduct will no longer be tolerated.