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Opinion How to add teeth to sanctions on Russia

Luna, a megayacht owned by Russian businessman Farkhad Akhmedov, is shown in the Hamburg shipyard harbor in Hamburg, Germany, on May 16. The European Union has imposed sanctions on Akhmedov, among others, because of Russia's attack on Ukraine. (Georg Wendt/dpa via AP)
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Brendan Rittenhouse Green and Caitlin Talmadge rightly pointed out in their May 15 Outlook essay, “The expanding U.S. goals in Ukraine are risky,” that “talk of total victory” from Western leaders leads to “significantly more dangerous aims” in the war. They added that Russian President Vladimir Putin might believe that “the West … will never lift sanctions.” This was, regrettably, their only mention of sanctions.

Once sanctions are in place, they lack political value unless it’s clear that, under specified conditions, they will be lifted. This is a step the United States has not taken, though it incurs little expense. It does take a lot of thinking, and an advisory working group should be on it. Different aspects of sanctions could have different conditions, but obvious ones include a general cease-fire that’s holding and a verified Russian withdrawal from Ukrainian territories. When we know what we think, we should discuss it with Ukraine and Europe.

It’s mistaken to believe (along with Mr. Putin) that there’s an “eternal Russia” with an essence that’s always the same. Russia has multiple levels of elites, a disparate population and a significant diaspora. If the West sharpened its message on sanctions’ purpose and how they could be lifted, there are audiences to listen.

Clay Ramsay, College Park

The writer is a senior research associate at the Center for International and Security Studies at the School of Public Policy of the University of Maryland at College Park.