Why would the Russian people like or respect the U.S. more if it stands silent while Putin crushes his opposition, abandoning the values that America championed for five decades during the Cold War?
There are better options.
First, as the administration implements the Magnitsky sanctions, it should also begin imposing penalties on Russian and other international banks that finance exports to Syria. This would require U.S. financial institutions to also cut off the bank accounts of Syria’s financiers. That would enrage Putin. But it would hasten an end to the killing, and send an important signal to Russian oligarchs that arming Assad has financial consequences.
Second, the administration should re-impose sanctions on Rosoboronexport, the Russian state-owned arms exporter. Some members of Congress are already calling for this step. The U.S. lifted a ban in 2010, and the Pentagon immediately started buying Russian helicopters for Afghanistan — the cheapest and fastest way to rebuild an Afghan air force whose pilots were already familiar with Russian aircraft. It’s time to stop relying on the Russian defense industry and invest in a Western helicopter that could be used in “hot and high” environments, including Afghanistan and other places where they are likely to be needed in future.
Finally, the U.S. shouldn’t stand by and shrug while Putin kicks out the Agency for International Development, raids nongovernmental organizations and intimidates election- monitoring groups. Congress should release the $50 million reprogramming request for a Civil Society Fund for Russia that was held over from the George W. Bush administration.