CNN | 12/2/2022 | Listen

Russia is waking up to sanctions. The West must not stop here

Opinion by David A. Andelman

Updated: Mon, 28 Feb 2022 17:51:32 GMT

Source: CNN

Editor's Note: David A. Andelman, a contributor to CNN, twice winner of the Deadline Club Award, is a chevalier of the French Legion of Honor, author of "A Red Line in the Sand: Diplomacy, Strategy, and the History of Wars That Might Still Happen" and the SubStack blog Andelman Unleashed. He formerly was a correspondent for The New York Times and CBS News in Europe and Asia. The views expressed in this commentary belong solely to the author. View more opinion at CNN.

Now that Russian President Vladimir Putin has embarked on his crusade to eradicate a neighboring democracy and subdue its proud and fearless people, the goal of the rest of the democratic world should be to make him feel the full pain of this miscalculated endeavor.

It's unclear whether Putin has an exit strategy. It is time for the West to force one upon him, tightening the screws on all Russian banks, airspace and the cushy foreign assets of its oligarchs.

Lessons can be learned from other drawn-out conflicts of recent history. It is precisely a lack of exit strategy that got the United States and the Soviet Union into such a bind in Afghanistan and, an even more appropriate analogy, that led America into a draining, decade-long war in Iraq.

America's "shock-and-awe" campaign began in Iraq on March 21, 2003 with 1,700 air sorties and 504 cruise missiles. Within roughly two weeks, US ground forces entered Baghdad, and after four days of intense fighting, the Iraqi regime fell. By April 14, the Pentagon reported that major military operations had ended.

But despite President George W. Bush's proclamation on May 1, 2003 of "mission accomplished," the US still had forces in Iraq in some capacity 18 years later. All this simply to suggest what may await Putin and his henchmen in Ukraine.

Of course, Ukraine is not Iraq and Putin is not Bush. But the conflict still provides a cautionary tale for the Russian president and his invading armies, who are already encountering far more determined resistance in Ukraine than they may ever have thought possible.

There is one more substantial difference from what unfolded in Iraq. At no point during those 18 years was any effort made by any other nation to destroy or even impede the American economy which, while absorbing an enormous cost, remained viable, even prosperous, its war-fighting capacity intact.

And while there were certainly protests abroad and at home, the US did not lose the support of the bulk of its allies and friends. It never became a pariah nation en route to a failed state. If the world's democracies want to bring Russia's invasion to a swift closure, it must inflict the kind of economic pain that forces the Kremlin to stop the war.

Already, many of Putin's long-time relationships abroad are at risk of deteriorating. China's Xi Jinping, who welcomed Putin to Beijing for the winter Olympics and signed an agreement for a 30-year supply of natural gas to China, with payment in euros, may be having second thoughts. China refused to cast a veto in the UN Security Council on a resolution condemning the invasion. And publicly, it has denied backing the Russian attacks. But it also appeared to levy blame on the US and its allies. And it has reportedly refused to call the attack on Ukraine an 'invasion.' China has too much at stake in trade and finance in the United States and Europe to risk backing a losing side in this battle.

Even some of Russia's long-time friends in the West are having second thoughts. With the French presidential elections just six weeks away, several of President Emmanuel Macron's challengers -- far-right candidates Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour and far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon -- have had to reverse their long-held favorable views of Putin and his practices.

Meanwhile Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko has added his efforts to the mix, with Ukrainian intelligence indicating Belarusian readiness to participate directly in the invasion of Ukraine. If this is how Putin plans to position his action as a "multi-national" effort, then Belarus must be subject to the same sanctions levied on Russia. It may be the ultimate push that could even topple the ruler of the only other nation willing to join Russia.

The international community, while having enacted some measures, must keep up the collective pressure. Let's examine where the ledger books find us these days. One side: Barring some large banks from the SWIFT money transcript network, freezing accounts of a host of oligarchs, even Putin himself, European air space off-limits to all Russian flights, major multinationals like BP pulling out of joint ventures with Russian corporations, even historic arms transfers from formerly reluctant nations as Germany. And then there are all these sanctions announced by Joe Biden and ratified by European leaders, along with Japan, Australia and Switzerland, that go beyond anything previously attempted on any nation.

Even more determined sanctions will degrade Putin's ability to sustain a long and debilitating occupation of a thoroughly hostile land he will never co-opt and where most individuals are sworn enemies.

How many forces will Putin need to pursue a war without end, in a nation he will never subdue? Enormous, probably for the moment incalculable — a drain on finite and dwindling resources needed to put Russian military in every village and town. More to the point, if Russia had to target a Kharkiv oil pipeline (as reported by Reuters citing Ukraine authorities), Kyiv's fuel reserves and airports, even before hand-to-hand fighting begins within Ukraine's leading cities, what will be left to occupy? How will Russia feed the populace or its occupying army?

Still, measures, beyond the costs being extracted by the Ukrainians themselves as they courageously take on their adversaries, can add up to a penalty that might even give an autocrat like Vladimir Putin pause. There may, in return, be repercussions the outside world might suffer. But can we possibly believe that they bear the most remote resemblance to the costs now being paid by Ukrainians?

In the end, Putin, with a fortune estimated by one expert in Russian financial affairs, Bill Browder, to be as high as $200 billion, surpassing those of both Jeff Bezos ($177 billion) and Elon Musk ($151 billion), has managed to conceal so carefully both the sources and location of his wealth that it might be all but impossible to find, let alone freeze it.

At the same time, Russia's banking system has very carefully insulated itself from the dollar economy, removing all or most of its dollar assets from the national coffers and slashing their national debt to $300 billion (18% of its GDP) compared with America's $31 trillion debt (133% of GDP). Expanding the embargo for use of the SWIFT global money transfer system to every Russian bank could very well produce a full-on run on the nation's banks.

There are more screws to be tightened, though the West must be prepared to suffer consequences that even at their worst are hardly what the people of Ukraine are enduring today. Oil and natural gas are the foundations of Russian power and national wealth. Yet so far, neither has been subject to any sanctions. Embargoes on Russian oil would certainly get Putin's attention.

Depending on their intensity, they could also send prices soaring globally. Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, suggests "apocalyptic prices" at the pump are not inconceivable if Russian oil flows were limited in some fashion. Still, this is no time for half measures or timid responses. Far too much is at stake.

In an odd way, Putin has accomplished what decades of his efforts and those of his admirers abroad have failed to do: He has succeeded in uniting a previously fractured Europe and Atlantic alliance. While it is far from clear how definitively the long-divergent trends between Europe and America can be sustained, he has nonetheless demonstrated most effectively, if inadvertently, the power of democracy and the democratic spirit. And that in itself is something to be sustained at all costs.


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