Canada, the United States and the European Union were right to slap new sanctions on Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, presenting a unified front against Russian aggression. The penalties, which don’t apply to Mr. Putin himself, hit a few of his close associates with asset freezes and travel bans. No, this won’t exactly bring the Russian economy to its knees, nor will it turn back the clock in Crimea. But it’s a start. Western leaders are threatening to lay out an escalating series of further sanctions. The West wants Moscow to reverse course on Crimea, or at least to stand down and agree to negotiations. But we should be even more concerned about what Mr. Putin could do next, beyond Crimea.
The international community cannot recognize this weekend’s staged Crimean referendum any more than it can recognize a caricature of a democratic process that offered no real choice, allowed no public debate, permitted no free speech and was held under military occupation. And for all the wrong Russia has done in Crimea, the greater focus has to be on what Russia could still do, in the rest of Ukraine. There are more shoes that Mr. Putin is threatening to drop.
Future inducements and punishments must be designed to dissuade any further attempts to fill out the footprint of Russia’s former empire. The rhetoric may be mostly about Crimea, but Western policy should be thinking more about the fate of the rest of Ukraine, not to mention Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. Canada, the U.S. and Europe must be prepared to make good on the threat of tightening sanctions if Moscow continues to provoke.
Sanctions, of course, aren’t the only way to punish Mr. Putin. They might not even be the most effective. His aggression is in part motivated by existential fear: If Russia’s neighbour joins Europe and becomes a democracy, that threatens his grip on power. Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster from Kiev hit very close to home.
Mr. Putin’s fear is what we in the West should most desire. And we should be working at least as hard as he is to accomplish that which he wishes to prevent. That’s why the West must strengthen its economic and political ties with Ukraine. Aid must be forthcoming, to ensure immediate economic stability. And the Europeans should offer Ukrainians a clear path to joining the EU, offering the possibility of long-term economic and political stability. Carrots for Ukraine are sticks for Russia.
In the meantime, the sanctions are a necessary, initial expression of international outrage. Russia is the world’s largest oil producer and the leading exporter of gas to Europe, but as the far smaller economy in the trade relationship with the West, it stands to lose far more from isolation than the U.S., Europe or Canada. For now, Mr. Putin shows no intention of backing down in Crimea. The key is to make sure he does not move forward into the rest of Ukraine.