For whatever reason, Russian President Vladimir Putin says he has decided to send 100,000 troops that he has massed for the last month on Ukrainian borders back to their home bases — for now.
Why? Perhaps he got what he wanted: A display of military superiority, an attempt to bully Ukraine and President Volodymyr Zelensky, a show of hands among the West on who would get tough with him and who wouldn’t. Maybe it was a victory for Western resolve in standing up to the botoxed dictator. Or perhaps Putin, feeling constrained by national protests over the deteriorating health of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, didn’t want an international crisis and a domestic one simultaneously. Or perhaps he’s lying to lull Ukraine and the West back into complacency.
But another reason seems more likely: He doesn’t feel it’s the right time for an assault on Ukraine, one of the fading levers he has over the nation.
So there is no reason for the West — or Ukraine — to relax.
In terms of economic sanctions, the West collectively is not even where it should have been more than seven years ago at the outset of Russia’s invasion of Crimea and the eastern Donbas. We again call on Western leaders to wake up to the fact that Putin’s foreign policy has only two aims: to reassemble as much of the former Soviet Union and to destroy democracies and their institutions globally.
This means that the answer is isolating Russia as much as possible. This means deeper sanctions against Russia’s major sectors of energy and banking. And yes, it means Germany must give up on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. It means disconnecting Russia from the global SWIFT system of banking transfers — all the better to cut off money laundering. It means sanctions against Putin and his inner circle of oligarchs, including asset freezes and visa bans. It means legal action to hold the Kremlin responsible for its war crimes and international law violations that have killed tens of thousands of its own citizens, especially in Chechnya, and abroad, in Ukraine and Syria. It also means exclusion from international organizations — such as the 57-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe — whose democratic values Russia routinely violates.
Instead, the West wants to avoid painful sacrifices and confrontation with Putin, a stance that will only embolden his menacing 22-year dictatorship. The assassinations and torture of his domestic critics, the suppression of political opposition and the muzzling of the press are more evidence that Putin has no place in the civilized world.
Yet Western leaders see every Russian transgression in isolation, rather than weaving them together into a big picture that demands concerted action. And they continue to gullibly accept Russia’s false version of events — that this is a civil war happening in Ukraine.
Even Putin’s State of the Nation address on April 21 revealed his “gopnik” — street thug — ways. He declared that if the West crossed any of his “red lines,” which he would define when and how he saw fit, he would respond with overwhelming punishment.
His “red lines” obviously include waging wars against his own people and neighbors. So the West is just supposed to stand down because Putin has declared it his right to kill people and invade neighbors?
Not a chance. The West doesn’t need to go to battle against Putin militarily to defeat him. Collectively, Western economies are so much stronger, especially if US and Europe live up to their highest ideals and insist on upholding these values worldwide. Russia’s big cash cows — oil & gas — are going to fade in importance as the world moves to a greener future.
If there’s a silver lining to this last month of tension, Ukrainians have come away with a deeper understanding of who their friends are and of the need to accelerate their split from Russia. And, if Putin continues to treat his own people as badly as he does, we hope that Russians themselves will successfully organize themselves for a brighter future.