The US and EU finally escalated sanctions on Russia as unrest expands in eastern Ukraine. Instead of going after the Russian economy on a broad front, though, the new round of sanctions still mainly targets individuals and a few Russian corporations. Will this incremental approach work? Not even Barack Obama is sure:
President Obama said his administration will today impose a new round of sanctions on Russia, targeting an “expanded list of individuals and companies,” with particular focus on some high-tech defense exports.
The president, speaking during a joint press conference with President Benigno Aquino, said the sanctions will “remain targeted,” applied in coordination with European allies, though will not hit Russian President Vladimir Putin directly.
The “goal is not to go after Putin personally, the goal is to change his calculus,” Obama said, “and encourage him to walk the walk and not just talk the talk when it comes to diplomatically resolving the crisis in Ukraine.”
Obama said he wants Russia to support free and fair elections in Ukraine next month but that Putin has not embraced that path.
“These sanctions reflect the next stage in a calibrated effort to change Russia’s behavior,” he said. “We don’t yet know if it’s going to work.”
The US has led on sanctions from the beginning — but that’s not saying much. The incremental approach leaves room for further escalation, but that kind of approach was more suited to prevention when the crisis remained localized in Crimea. It’s clear that the seizures of buildings and the violence within eastern Ukraine has been directed from Moscow, and now Latvia says that Russia has started a similar campaign there. The time for narrowly-targeted sanctions has passed. Will these incremental increases in sanctions work? No. Next question?
To be fair to Obama, though, the EU has been very reluctant to move forward with any sanctions. The US doesn’t have the kind of leverage on its own that Europe does in trade with Russia, which is why Obama has had to push the EU to do much of anything in response to Vladimir Putin’s resurgent imperialism. This was probably as far as Obama could get European leaders to go.
In a sign of how effective we can expect this to be, the mayor of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine got shot in the back last night, a wound that may be mortal:
The mayor of Ukraine’s second-largest city was shot and wounded Monday amid spiraling unrest in the country’s eastern regions, according to his staff.
A Ukrainian news agency said Mayor Gennady Kernes of Kharkiv was undergoing emergency surgery for a bullet wound after being shot in the back, according to the Reuters news agency.
“The doctors are fighting to save his life,” the mayor’s spokeswoman Tatiana Gruzinskaya told the Ukrainian agency, according to Reuters.
In Slavyansk, the rebels who abducted Western observers from OCSE put them on display for the media overnight. The rebels released one of their hostages, but then seized a television station in order to force the broadcast of uninterrupted Russian propaganda in the area:
Seven European military officers and a translator being held hostage by pro-Russia separatists were paraded before the news media on Sunday, hours after another group of captives, three Ukrainian security agents, were shown on Russian TV huddled in a room, blindfolded and bloody, without pants, their arms bound with packing tape.
Later in the day, pro-Russia activists took control of the state TV center in this regional capital without firing a shot. Members of a separatist movement called the Donetsk People’s Republic, aided by a fight club from the eastern city of Kharkiv, stormed the broadcast facility, saying they were sick of watching news aired through the prism of their enemies in Kiev and demanding an undiluted stream of Russian programing.
The day’s events showed eastern Ukraine slipping further into chaos, with armed separatists openly defying state authority and local police either folding in sympathy or admitting that they felt too intimidated to stop the pro-Russia groups.
One would think that Europe might consider a little stronger action after Russia’s proxies kidnapped their observers, but apparently the trade issue is more important to them than this kind of lawlessness. Are the Baltic states taking a lesson from this flaccid Western response? I’d bet on it.