Here the Wall Street Journal looks at the unfolding crisis with Putin and Russia. I would emphasize the West’s economic options, which include ending European energy dependence on Russia and squeezing Russia to junk bond status.
A coherent response has to start by talking honestly about the nature of the Putin regime. The Kremlin promotes through its domestic media an anti-Americanism that is as vicious as anything that came out of the Soviet Union. In its telling the U.S. is promoting fascism and seeks political domination in Europe. Mr. Putin’s propaganda campaign has become uglier as his domestic political control has tightened. Western leaders need to tell the truth about all this so their citizens, wary of foreign entanglements, begin to comprehend the threat.
The West also needs to act with more unity and conviction. Mr. Putin has figured he can split Western Europe from the Central Europeans and even from the U.S., and that is playing out. Germany is the weakest link, with many of its political class and business elite on Russia’s energy payroll. The lack of a united Western front weakens the impact of sanctions and feeds the belief of Mr. Putin and his oligarch coterie that they can ride out any short-term punishment.
Yet Russia’s economy is vulnerable to sanctions if the West would get serious. Standard & Poor’s last week downgraded Russian debt to near-junk status, as capital flight picks up. A recession seems likely this year after slow growth in 2013. Sanctions against the Putin circle have their uses, but sanctions on the entire Russian financial system would have far more impact. Mr. Putin is riding a wave of nationalist popularity with his Crimea conquest, but that will erode if Russians conclude that his adventures are making them poorer.
The West also needs to move faster on making Europe less dependent on Russia for energy. Mr. Obama could send a global signal if he ordered his Energy Department to approve every U.S. liquefied natural gas export proposal. Not every project would be built, but approval would let capital find the best prospects. Yet the U.S. President, like the Germans, is hostage to his domestic renewable-energy lobby that hates fossil fuels. The West’s climate-change obsessions have increased Mr. Putin’s strategic leverage.
Above all Europe and the U.S. need to move quickly to revive NATO’s forces and credibility. U.S. officials are sounding the right notes on NATO’s Article 5 that commits all treaty members to respond to an attack on any member. But they need to reinforce that message with more than token deployments in Poland and the Baltic states.
While Ukraine is not a NATO member, the U.S. should also send lethal aid to Kiev as a way of making Mr. Putin think twice about the costs of an invasion. Mr. Obama is worried that this will be too provocative, but what is really provocative to this Kremlin is weakness.
Western leaders, and their publics, have wanted to believe that the end of the Cold War means the end of conflict in Europe. Georgia in 2008 should have burst that bubble, but there is no excuse after Ukraine. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a growing threat to Europe’s peace and stability, and the longer the West waits to respond the higher the cost will be.
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