THE AGREEMENTS signed Friday to bring Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia closer to the European Union could lead to a better life for tens of millions of people in the three former Soviet republics. Sadly, Russian President Vladimir Putin will take it as a setback, since he is more interested in expanding his sphere of influence than in the economic well-being of Russians or their neighbors.
This tilt by the three countries toward Europe brings them closer to a community of common values — including democracy and relatively free markets. Mr. Putin’s sphere offers authoritarianism and statism, two misbegotten ideologies, further marred by Russia’s decision to plunge a knife into the heart of Ukraine, hive off Crimea and fuel separatism in the eastern provinces.
With this backdrop, it is deeply troubling to see the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wage a campaign warning the United States not to impose unilateral sanctions on Russia because that might hurt U.S. business interests. The two organizations — powerful citadels of U.S. capitalism — argue that go-it-alone sanctions have little hope of achieving U.S. foreign policy goals. Jay Timmons of the manufacturers claims that it would be better to provide goods and services to the world through “pro-trade policies and multilateral diplomacy.” Those are nice words, but the business groups are shortsighted.
When Russia was roiled by uncertainty and change in the 1990s, and even into the 2000s, it made sense to engage, and engagement did plenty of good. But something fundamental has changed. Mr. Putin has suffocated democracy, forged an economic model based on crony capitalism and carried out subterfuge and subversion against Ukraine. It is misplaced to suggest that all will be well if we can just sell Russia more airplanes and sneakers. It won’t change Mr. Putin’s behavior one whit.
The business leaders are correct that multilateral sanctions would be more effective than unilateral ones, and the Obama administration has been trying hard to forge a unified front. Ironically, perhaps, achieving that goal will be more difficult if European business interests think they can find support in the United States to scuttle any serious response to Mr. Putin’s aggression.
We were also disturbed to read an editorial in this week’s Science magazine calling on scientists to “lead a reversal” in deteriorating relations with Russia. Certainly, scientists played an important role in bridging the gap during the Cold War. But then, as now, science diplomacy cannot be isolated from politics. If scientists are to play such a role, they must carry the message to Russia that its behavior matters in the same way that nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov challenged the authorities as a voice of conscience in Soviet times.
The real tragedy of Mr. Putin’s course is that he has damaged the opportunity for cooperation across a range of disciplines that once seemed to offer promise: nonproliferation, space exploration, energy, aviation, civil society and more. This was not the outcome the West wanted. But it is the reality, and it must be met with clarity and unflinching defense of the values of freedom, democracy and markets. No exceptions — not for scientists or business leaders.