Staunton, April 18 – The West has put its faith in sanctions as a means to force Vladimir Putin to change course or be forced from office, but to date the Kremlin leader has effectively exploited those actions to strengthen his position within the Russian elite and among the Russian people.
Ever more Russian commentators have reached the conclusion that sanctions, however attractive they may be to Western leaders as an expression of their opposition to Putin’s policies, are not going to have the impact in Moscow that their authors expect and have begun to ask whether there are other steps the West might take to compel Putin to change or go.
Two in particular, opposition politician and commentator Konstantin Borovoy and MGIMO historian Valery Solovey, are currently focusing on the question of what might force Putin’s hand (apostrophe.ua/article/world/ex-ussr/2018-04-18/est-lish-tri-instrumenta-kotoryie-ostanovyat-putina/17975 and rosbalt.ru/posts/2018/04/18/1697494.html).
Borovoy says that the sanctions imposed up to now “are not capable of changing the behavior of Russian President Vladimir Putin.” If the West is to force the Kremlin to change course from its current “aggressive foreign policy, “three other radical instruments” will need to be employed.
The experience of the Cold War is instructive. “The West was able to stop the Soviet Union by more serious actions: an embargo on oil, an embargo on contemporary dual use technologies, and the fall of oil prices – these three instruments are the real sanctions capable of stopping the Kremlin,” he argues.
“Everything else is symbolism,” that may make the West feel good but that won’t change the Kremlin’s direction in the way the West wants.
But “unfortunately,” Borovoy says, “there is no readiness for such actions in the West;” and consequently none of these is likely to employed with the result that Putin will continue on his present course, threatening ever more countries in the ways he has been doing up to now – by invasion, by cyber-attack and by intervention in the domestic politics of the West.
Solovey agrees and like Borovoy looks to the history of the end of the Soviet system for ideas. According to him, “an analysis of the relations between the USSR and the West has shown that of the three Western strategies toward the USSR – détente, mutually assured destruction and Star Wars – the most effective turned out to be the last.”
The Soviet Union was drawn into an arms race which it could not afford and could not win, and that set the country on the path to its defeat and disintegration. “Consequently,” Solovey says, there is no need to go looking for some new strategy: the West can use the most effective one from the past.
That is especially true, the MGIMO historian says, because “the potential of Russia is immeasurably less than that of the USSR.” Moreover, Putin has shown his willingness to take part in an arms race given his statements on March 1, and that should provide guidance to the West on the steps it needs to take to contain and ultimately defeat him.
The West must impose a ban on purchases of Russian sovereign and state corporation bonds, an oil embargo, and “an embargo on the transfer of dual use technologies.” He does not say but implies exactly what Borovoy days: doing anything less will be symbolic but almost certainly ineffective.