Responding to Russia’s latest moves to formalize its annexation of Crimea, President Obama on Thursday announced new sanctions against Moscow and authorized possible future penalties against “key sectors of the Russian economy.”
Russia promptly retaliated by banning nine U.S. lawmakers and officials from entering the country. The list of banned Americans includes Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and three top Obama aides, the Russian Foreign Ministry said. McCain responded sarcastically that his spring vacation in Siberia was now “off.” . . . . He said more top Russian officials will be subject to sanctions, as well as other individuals and a bank known for providing “material support” to the Russian leadership.
Unfortunately, the hoopla didn’t amount to much from the administration, although any action is better than empty rhetoric. In fact, the president went out of the way to signal that he didn’t really want to punish Russia. Wrong: That should be our objective, namely to extract a heavy price and to shore up our European alliances. By enacting stringent sanctions only if Russia keeps going, the president gives too little weight to the Ukrainian invasion. (“The new executive order that Obama signed separately authorizes the Treasury, if Obama so decides in the future, to impose sanctions against additional Russian entities — which he described as constituting key sectors of the economy — in the event that Russia takes further action such as invading the rest of Ukraine.”)
Even more troubling, the feckless European Union has decided to do absolutely nothing for now, afraid it might hurt its own economies. That is reason enough for us to begin exporting liquefied natural gas and stepping up support for our allies.
The measures Obama takes seem so small compared with the invasion and annexation of part of a European state that one wonders if President Obama understands the gravity of the situation. Perhaps the president fears that stronger action and a re-evaluation of our defense posture and European policy would signal an admission of failure on his part. It would, but refusing to look at issues such as placement of anti-missile defense systems or to open up liquefied natural gas exports merely underscores how little our foes have to fear from us.
The head of NATO yesterday said the invasion of Ukraine posed the greatest threat to European security in decades, but you’d never know it from Obama’s response. He has apparently made up his mind not to impose any real cost for Putin’s snatching of Crimea. That should worry other allies, not to mention those in the United States who see Obama still unable or unwilling to lead the West.