, Salem, MA

March 6, 2014

Our view: Sanctions can work against Russia

The Salem News

---- — It’s long been evident that Vladimir Putin was born a generation or two too late.

The Russian autocrat is a better fit for the days he seems to pine for — the days when the Soviet Union was a mighty empire, ruled decisively by one man who had fought tooth-and-nail to get to the top of the Communist party machinery.

Alas for ole Vladimir, those days are long gone. They crumbled like the Berlin Wall, rusted like the once formidable Soviet Navy, faded away like those grand parades of military might that goose-stepped their way through Moscow’s Red Square, soldiers’ heads bowing to their approving great leader.

Putin is a hopeless throwback to that time now passed, and unfortunately he’s a pugnacious fellow with whom the world will be dealing for a long time. He’s been around long enough for the rest of the world to know his personality and gameplan, and that’s a good thing. Unlike Soviet leaders of the past — such as Nikita Khrushchev — who emerged from obscurity and immediately elbowed their way onto the world stage, Putin is a known entity.

And so it is best that the leaders of the West follow through with their threats of economic sanctions against Russia for its incursions into Ukraine. The Ukraine has been in turmoil for months, split down the middle by factions who favor closer ties with Europe, and a sizable Russian-leaning population that favors closer ties to Russia. It is the kind of conflict that defined the Cold War.

Ukraine’s Putin-puppet president has fled, leaving the country leaning toward Europe. In response, Putin has taken provocative action by landing Russian forces in Ukraine’s southernmost province, known as the Crimea — a strategic peninsula in the Black Sea that has long served as the most important port for Russia’s southern fleet.

Going to war over Ukraine would clearly be a disaster for all involved. A war would destabilize Eastern Europe and dramatically increase tensions between the Western powers and Russia. The world’s economy would also be significantly impacted. Even Putin, on some level, is aware of that.

This is a game of brinksmanship that is reminiscent of the Cold War, though with two major differences: Russia is no longer a leading world power, and its economy is now closely tied to Western nations and capitalism itself.

If there is one lesson that can be learned from the Cold War, it is that the Soviet leadership mentality respects a show of force. John F. Kennedy demonstrated that clearly during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Ronald Reagan demonstrated it during the era of “Star Wars” strategic defense systems. Sanctions can work against Russia, because it is more vulnerable to them than in decades past.

It is interesting to note that even as our leaders laid down a hard line in the worst of the Cold War confrontations, they also offered appeasements to the Soviets that helped to calm the waters. Kennedy, for example, withdrew missiles from Turkey. There are certainly carrots that can be offered to Putin.

Who knows? Maybe we can even get him to return Robert Kraft’s Super Bowl ring.