|cnn.com, 29-08-2014. By Leon Aron
How to make Putin back down
Leon Aron: Unable to win by proxy or to retreat in Ukraine, it appears Putin
He says U.S., Europe mulling sanctions, but only ones left will also hurt own
He says West can help Ukraine win by sending support like radar jamming
Aron: If Russia sees casualties, Russian patriotic support for Putin, and war,
Editor's note: Leon Aron is a resident scholar and the Director of Russian
Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. The opinions expressed in this
commentary are solely those of the author.
Unable either to win the war in Ukraine by proxy or to retreat from the conflict
because of the enormous blow a defeat would deliver to his regime's legitimacy,
Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be sending in regular troops to
attack Ukraine. The action is south of rebel-held Donetsk, which, until Russia's
heightened involvement this week, was on the verge of being retaken by the
It is likely that in response to Russia's escalation, the United States and
European Union will contemplate more sanctions. The problem is that all the
relatively "painless" economic measures have already been taken. So both the
U.S. and Europe are now left looking at actions that will hurt their own
industries and financial institutions.
Take the previous round of sanctions, which targeted only select Russian banks.
This time, it may well have to be the entire Russian financial system: That is,
U.S. and EU banks will have to sever relations with any bank that does business
with their Russian counterparts. Another example: Previously, only future
investments in technology and transfers to the Russian energy sector were banned.
Now, the West may have to block the hundreds of billions of dollars in
investment and equipment already in the "pipeline" to Russia as a result of the
pre-existing contracts between the Russian oil giant Rosneft and its Western
Moscow will undoubtedly fight in international courts to overrule such bans and
will also likely retaliate by curtailing gas deliveries to Europe, just in time
for winter. Never mind that energy exports are the backbone of the Russian
treasury. As Putin has shown with the food import embargo, the regime is ready
to harm its own people if necessary.
Which brings us to the key problem with economic sanctions: They rarely work in
the short, or even medium term. When a regime's popularity or even legitimacy
depends on staying the course (as it certainly does in the case of Ukraine) and
with the patriotic hysteria and paranoia whipped up by state-controlled
television, Moscow is likely to persist for a significant amount of time before
sanctions show any effect. Western leaders should therefore not oversell the
There is, however, something the West can do to change Putin's mind much quicker,
namely help Ukraine to win a just war against a foreign aggressor. Sending guns
and bullets is not necessary -- Ukraine has enough. What Kiev needs is radar
jamming and detection equipment to protect its planes from Russia's
anti-aircraft systems (the same kind that shot down the Malaysian Airliner) as
well as purely defensive weapons such as anti-tank missiles and some
intelligence sharing by the West, including satellite data.
But perhaps just as important, as any weaker nation facing a much bigger
aggressor can attest, the Ukrainians need moral support. And nothing will boost
it more than effective gestures of battlefield solidarity.
Of course, as noted earlier, retreat is not an option for Putin. This is only
true, however, as long as Russian troops do not begin to sustain significant
casualties. The memory of the Soviet war in Afghanistan is still very much alive
in the minds of the fathers and mothers of today's soldiers. And, unlike the
1980s, Moscow may not be able to engineer secret burials of zinc coffins welded
shut, or force the relatives of the deceased to keep quiet. A video appeal by
Russian mothers asking Putin to bring their sons back from the battlefield in
Ukraine went viral just this week.
One hopes, of course, that Russian soldiers will not have to die en masse for
their commander in chief to adjust his policy. Providing military-to-military
assistance to Ukraine seems to be the only way the West can help stop this war
relatively quickly. The alternative is the taking of ever more Ukrainian and
Russian lives -- with no end in sight.
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