On February 24th, I witnessed a worrisome exchange at President Biden’s press conference immediately after his speech announcing new sanctions against Russia.
A journalist asked the President why the West was not sanctioning Putin himself, and he completely ignored the question and moved on to the next journalist.
In the light of these limited sanctions against Russia, I wonder why there is still reluctance among Western powers to more aggressively attack the Russians now and where it hurts – their mobility and their pocketbooks.
Mr. Putin is rumored to be one of the world’s richest people, yet despite today’s actions, his fortune abroad remains untouched.
What is the fear? Why not freeze all of the personal assets he holds directly and through proxies and make him pay a direct price for his actions?
Why not decree that any plane landing in or taking off from Russia will be denied Western overflight and airport facilities, The UK is banning Aeroflot flights, but this is not enough.
Why not cut imports from Russia altogether until the Russians withdraw?
Why not send all Russian students back home and rescind all visas issued to Russians?
One may say because this would make Russians suffer. Indeed, but Ukrainians are suffering at Russian hands, and it is only fair for them to feel pain and pressure their government to stop.
These are tools that are easy to implement and would hurt the regime immediately, immeasurably and in a most profound way.
Indeed, consumers especially in Europe could suffer. Fuel prices could increase as might the cost of some raw materials imported from Russian sources.
But what is the opportunity cost of not undertaking a bit of suffering now rather than a lot of suffering down the road?
In 1938 no one stopped Hitler. In 1939 he began the second world war that cost over 60 million lives. Had the Allies swallowed a bit of short-term pain when Hitler came to power, how many lives could have ultimately been saved?
If Putin succeeds in Ukraine, what is to stop him from invading some of the smaller NATO countries. If he is allowed to get away with this, what message does that send other powers with imperial desires?
But strangling Russia now could well multiply Putin’s problems at home. Already anti-war demonstrations have broken out in a number of Russian cities and hundreds have been arrested.
Are Western leaders and citizens willing to lead despite the difficulties that this entails? Are they and we not willing to accept short term pain for long term gain or are we too pampered to care until it is too late?
These are questions that must be pondered now and not later. Stopping Putin will require sacrifice that we must all be prepared to carry.
Putin does not play by Western civilized rules. He plays by his own and takes advantage of our inability or unwillingness to think outside of the box and to play dirty.
Right now, it seems to me that we are playing a game of checkers while Putin plays chess.
The Russians’ favorite chess piece is the knight – it moves in eight different directions, all of them crooked.
We must choose between changing the game on Putin or risk playing an even deadlier game sometime in the near future.
Eduardo is a former deputy spokesperson for Ban Ki-Moon.
He is an expert in public diplomacy.
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