David J. Kramer is president of Freedom House. He was deputy assistant secretary of state for Russia and Ukraine in the George W. Bush administration.
The Obama administration took a good first step Monday when it announced sanctions against Russian officials involved in the invasion of Ukraine and efforts that “undermine democratic processes and institutions in Ukraine; threaten its peace, security, stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity; and contribute to the misappropriation of its assets.” As President Obama said, “If Russia continues to interfere in Ukraine, we stand ready to impose further sanctions.”
Further sanctions will indeed be needed, for the list released Monday is missing some key names. In addition, Obama needs to ensure that his European partners take tough measures — the European Union announced sanctions against 13 Russian officials but did not identify them — as Russian integration into Europe and its financial institutions is much greater than into the United States.
The White House named two senior aides to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Vladislav Surkov and Sergey Glazyev; one deputy prime minister, Dmitri Rogozin; and four members of parliament, including the head of the Federation Council (upper chamber). Key omissions from the sanctions list, however, were all the members of the Russian national security council and several oligarchs, including:
● Sergei Ivanov, Putin’s chief of staff;
● Alexander Bortnikov, head of Russia’s security services (FSB);
● Sergei Shoigu, the minister of defense;
● Sergei Naryshkin, head of the lower chamber (Duma) and a member of the national security council who is close to Putin;
●All Federation Council deputies who voted for the use of force against Ukraine.
I can understand not including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to keep diplomatic channels open, though he has lied so many times to Secretary of State John Kerry about Russian intentions — as has Putin to Obama — that one wonders about the utility of continuing to talk with him.
To really get the attention of Putin and those around him, the United States and European Union also need to go after the key money guys, including:
● Igor Sechin, head of Rosneft;
● Alexei Miller, head of Gazprom;
● Vagit Alekperov, head of Lukoil;
● Gennady Timchenko, head of Volga Group;
● Sergei Chemezov, chair of defense exporter Rosoboronexport.
They are close and important to Putin, and they and their companies have a lot of assets in the West so they are vulnerable to asset freezes. Squeezing them would make life more complicated for Putin. He might retaliate against Western companies, but given the fragile state of the Russian economy, doing that would badly damage the Russian market.
It is also important to impose sanctions against Russian state-owned enterprises and financial institutions. Capital flight out of Russia was $63 billion last year, according to preliminary figures from the country’s Central Bank, as rich Russians tend to keep their assets in countries governed by the rule of law and transparency.
Then there is the issue of Putin himself. He bears ultimate responsibility for the outrageous actions in Ukraine and for the crackdown against human rights inside Russia. The situation in Russia has deteriorated in the past week alone, with opposition Web sites ordered shut down and civil society organizations, which were already under tremendous pressure, coming under even greater scrutiny. Before too long, Putin should head any list of sanctions targets, just as President Alexander Lukashenka heads the list for Belarus. Putin’s behavior internally and externally is far worse than Lukashenka’s.
Putin and the Kremlin are vulnerable to sanctions, but if they really want to have an impact the United States and European Union have to go further than they have to date. Unless Putin and those around him pay a serious price for their actions, they are unlikely to back down and might even go beyond the damage they have already done to Ukraine.
The Obama administration tried diplomatic negotiations right up until Crimeans went to the polls Sunday for a referendum that no reputable state should recognize. Conducting a rushed vote under the barrel of Russian guns, without any efforts to involve Ukraine’s central government, is illegal and illegitimate.
“It’s all about freedom,” Ukraine’s acting prime minister, Arseny Yatsenyuk, said during his meeting last week with Obama. “We fight for our freedom, we fight for our independence, we fight for our sovereignty and we will never surrender.” If Ukraine, with Western help, is able to push back against Putin’s aggression, then freedom — in Ukraine and around the globe — will have scored a major victory against one of the world’s most threatening authoritarian regimes.
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