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Time to get tough on Russia

The West’s sanctions against Russia naturally remain a controversial issue. Despite this, Moscow’s current actions suggest that it may be time to expand this strategy.

December 21, 2021 - Mark Temnycky - Articles and Commentary

Talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and President of the United States of America Joe Biden in Geneva, in June 2021. wikimedia.org

Over the past few weeks, Russian troops have mobilised near Ukraine’s eastern border. The United States has warned European officials of a potential Russian invasion of the country. Naturally, Ukrainian forces have been on high alert. Whilst the United Kingdom stated that it is ready to send special forces to Ukraine, several western countries have increased their defence aid to Kyiv.

The renewed hostilities between Russia and Ukraine have also prompted an odd response. In a recent segment on his show, Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson asked his audience why the US should support Ukraine and not Russia. He added that Russia was meddling in Ukraine because Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to keep “his western border secure”.

Meanwhile, fellows and research associates at prominent think tanks and organisations in Washington have argued that the US should establish a new appeasement strategy with Russia. They stated that America should hold Ukraine accountable for the Minsk Accords despite numerous Russian ceasefire violations. They have also argued that supplying Ukraine with military equipment would only further destabilise the area. Some have even claimed that Ukraine is of no strategic value to the US.

Ukraine, like any other sovereign state, should have the right to defend its borders. Russia previously launched a military incursion into Eastern Ukraine that resulted in a conflict that has now lasted seven years. Critics should also be reminded of Russia’s recent aggression.

Throughout the course of this year, Russia has built up its military presence near Ukraine’s eastern border, created an energy crisis in Europe by reducing gas production while increasing prices, expelled various western diplomats, suspended its mission to NATO, and manufactured a migrant crisis on the EU-Belarus border. These actions hardly suggest that Russia is calling for peace.

Current western penalties on Russia also appear to be ineffective. Following Russia’s military incursion into Eastern Ukraine in 2014, the US, UK, EU, and Canada implemented numerous sanctions on Moscow as a punishment for its actions. Experts predict that the country has lost billions of US dollars due to these sanctions. It should also be remembered that Russia was expelled from the G8.

Despite these penalties, Russia did not change its behaviour. In 2016 it meddled in the Brexit referendum and US presidential elections. The following year it also attempted to influence the French presidential vote. Moreover, Russia has supported authoritarian regimes in Libya, Syria, and Venezuela. Most recently, the state was responsible for various cyberattacks against America and Ukraine.

What kind of response?

Russia’s latest antics in 2021 demonstrate that current attempts to hold Russia it accountable for its aggressive behaviour have not worked. As a result, the West should consider implementing stiffer penalties.

First, the West should consider limiting Russia’s involvement in international organisations. For example, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe should strip the country of its voting rights. Whilst Russia’s voting rights were previously removed in 2014, they were reinstated in 2019. Removing Russia’s voting capabilities could force the country to think twice about its behaviour on the international stage. Russia’s involvement in the G20 and SWIFT, the global economic payment messaging system, should also be called into question.

Second, the US, UK, EU, and Canada should implement harsher sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin and his inner circle. These individuals should be prevented from travelling to their lavish Western homes. Their dirty money assets should also be seized.

Third, the West should implement new sanctions on Nord Stream 2. While the pipeline has been physically constructed, it still needs to be certified. A completed project would give Russia a direct route into the European market, bypassing the current pipelines in more eastern states. An operational Nord Stream 2 would give Russia an energy monopoly over Europe. This country would control the price and flow of gas into the continent. If relations were to sour, Russia could simply turn off the taps. This would leave millions of Europeans without gas, similar to what happened with Ukraine and Belarus during the early 2000s.

Overall, western efforts calling for a new appeasement strategy with Russia are ill-advised. Russia has demonstrated that it is unwilling to change its behaviour and that it will continue to act aggressively toward its neighbours. This should not be tolerated.

It is therefore time for the West to get tough on Russia. Implementing stiffer penalties on this country would demonstrate that the West is serious about Russian aggression. Otherwise, attempts at a new “Russian reset” will only show that the West cannot hold Moscow accountable for its actions. It would inform Russia that it can continue to meddle in the affairs of its neighbours without consequence, and we cannot fathom the dangers of such a precedent.

Mark Temnycky is an accredited freelance journalist covering Eastern Europe. He is also a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center.

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