It has now been several months since the Ukrainian protests began on the Maidan in Kiev and nearly two since Russia annexed Crimea.
Through it all, the US and the EU has continually failed to find a way to properly and sufficiently address the enormity of the challenges we are facing from a resurgent Russia.
Indeed, Obama’s foreign policy choices over the last few years, and specifically in reference to the situation in Ukraine, has come under attack from all sides. While it is more than expected to hear criticism from right wing commentators and Republicans alike, the onslaught of condemnation for the President’s decisions as commander-in-chief from liberals has been almost as fierce.
The New York Times editorial board, a staunch supporter of President Obama since his election, recently wrote, “Still, too often, Mr. Obama’s ambitions seem in question. It does not feel as if he is exercising sufficient American leadership and power, even if he is in fact working to solve a problem. Some analysts have suggested he lacks a passion for foreign policy. Others say he has no inspiring ideological prism through which the world can understand his choices. Others say he is too resigned to the obstacles that prevent the United States from being able to control world events as easily as it may once have done. These criticisms have some truth to them, and Mr. Obama sometimes makes things worse when he deigns to explain himself.”
Writing in Time about the President’s whiffing on Syria, Joe Klein said, “[Obama] willingly jumped into a bear trap of his own creation. In the process, he has damaged his presidency and weakened the nation’s standing in the world. It has been one of the more stunning and inexplicable displays of presidential incompetence that I’ve ever witnessed.”
There are many more examples that I could offer, but I believe my point has been made: the President’s foreign policy approach is failing and everyone, on both sides of the aisle, knows it.
As a consequence, it is crucial that we, as a community of thinkers, commentators, practitioners, patriots and supporters of democracy come to some sort of agreement as to what course of action will actually effect some change.
The US and the EU have to be on the same page.
In a recent article, Meghan O’Sullivan asked – and answered – “Why aren’t sanctions stopping Putin?”
She finds that, overall, the US and EU just haven’t gone far enough. And they haven’t been designed with the long game in mind.
- Unilateral trade and investment sanctions are of limited (but not zero) use, particularly on goods for which there is a global market
- Mild sanctions should not be expected to achieve truly ambitious results
- Sanctions should not be expected to deliver changes in a short period of time
- And Secondary sanctions” imposed over the fierce objections of allies can backfire
We are currently witnessing the “backfire” O’Sullivan references. Putin has barely blinked an eye at what we’ve thrown his way.
It follows that we need to issue broader financial sanctions, with the prospect of barring Russian entities from US financial markets looming.
Energy sanctions would substantially hurt Russia as the world’s largest energy provider. O’Sullivan argues that an embargo on Russian natural gas exports would be effective, given that gas requires immense infrastructure (pipelines or LNG terminals) to flow. And more modest energy sector sanctions that would not terminate current U.S. and European investments in Russian energy could still weigh on Russia’s energy sector—and therefore, the viability of the whole Russian economy—over time.
As I have argued before, we must be prepared to offer Ukraine economic and military aid.
Sanctions alone will not accomplish our short term or long term goals in Ukraine. Additionally, they will not put us in good position to deal with the foreign policy challenges Moscow poses today and in the future.
The Ukrainian elections on May 25th offer the West a valuable opportunity to support democracy promotion and rule of law in Ukraine. It is almost an absolute certainty that Putin’s lackluster endorsement of the elections will sour as they draw closer. As he did with the votes last weekend in Eastern Ukraine, Putin is more than capable of changing his mind at the drop of a hat.