Rather than threatening Putin, Obama should continue to seek to offer him an exit strategy–just as Putin offered him one out of Syria. By all accounts, this is what Obama is seeking to do. Such a course won’t satisfy the nostalgic cold warriors in Washington, but it would defuse a conflict that should not be allowed to jeopardize the West’s relations with Moscow. The truly dangerous course isn’t if Obama seeks to treat with Putin, it’s if he doesn’t, reports

The current crisis is partly the result of many years of goading Russia and seeking to curtail and reduce its influence in the former Soviet Union. To respond to Russia’s dangerous blunder with even more goading, as McCain and Rubio would prefer, is sure to make relations even worse and to increase tensions throughout the region still further.

Over the weekend, Rubio offered eight proposals for "punishing” Russia. Some are old stand-bys of symbolic retribution (e.g., condemnation at the U.N., boycotting the next G-8 summit, expelling Russia from the G-8) that are more or less easy enough to do and will have no effect, while others are much more reckless and foolish, such as pushing harder for Georgian membership in NATO, that will certainly make Russia more intransigent. Speeding up the process of bringing Georgia into NATO is just the sort of useless, ill-considered goading that will make it even more difficult to avoid further escalation in Ukraine. It is the sort of proposal one would make if one wanted U.S.-Russian relations and the situation in Ukraine to keep getting worse. Despite being a provocative move, it also does nothing to punish Russia, but would just confirm that the past U.S. obsession with NATO expansion is alive and well. That would give Russian hard-liners another excuse to continue their current course of action.

Beyond that, many of the "punishments” that Rubio has suggested would do very little to inflict any pain on Russia and would effectively undermine U.S. efforts on multiple issues. For instance, Rubio wants the U.S. to suspend all other negotiations with Russia:
Fourth, any and all discussions and negotiations with Moscow on any issue unrelated to this crisis, including trade and other matters, should be immediately suspended.

How does this punish Russia? Among other things, this would seem to include halting P5+1 negotiations with Iran and suspending all diplomacy involving Syria to which Russia has been a party. This would seem to impose no costs on Russia at all, but would make it harder for the U.S. to pursue its own diplomacy on other issues. Of course, Rubio has no interest in diplomacy with Iran, either, so he probably doesn’t see this as a drawback, but the U.S. shouldn’t be making much of the rest of its foreign policy agenda hostage to events in Ukraine. Rubio’s final suggestion that the Senate not vote on Rose Gottemoeller’s nomination is another measure that would do nothing to cause Russia the least discomfort. It is aimed purely at continuing to block the confirmation of a well-qualified nominee because of a knee-jerk aversion to arms control as such.

The U.S. can certainly add more officials to the Magnitsky list, but it is worth bearing in mind that the passage of the Magnitsky Act has succeeded only in irritating Moscow and causing it to engage in hostile responses. Expanding the list may very well inconvenience and annoy many Russians officials, but it seems most likely to produce yet more hostility without any constructive results to show for it.

811 reads | 04.03.2014

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