For the past 14 years, Vladimir Putin has worked hard to return Russia to what he believes is its rightful place as a great power, respected and heeded in international affairs.
The United States and our allies have helped him, thinking it was the right thing to do at the time. Now Putin has chosen exactly the wrong tactic to restore Russia’s power and influence – an invasion of a neighbor.
We must therefore reverse this strategy and turn the welcome mat face down. Now we must isolate Russia on all possible fronts until Putin reverses course.
We need a complete, comprehensive plan to isolate Putin’s Russia from the community of nations. Some steps can be done unilaterally and others require the cooperation and consensus of our friends and allies – everyone who wants to see a sovereign Ukraine, secure within its own borders, able to seek its own destiny on its own terms.
The Obama administration has announced its intention to work with Congress to address and punish Russia’s outrageous and dangerous misbehavior.
The Senate should cooperate fully in a bipartisan way to define those sanctions, and this work should take place immediately. We must reach a bipartisan consensus of a unified American government confronting crisis and displaying American leadership at its strongest and best. Now, at last, is the time.
As a first step – even before work in Congress is complete – we must move beyond simply suspending plans for the Sochi G-8 summit. We should lead the G-8 to become the G-7. Russia was invited to join that group of prosperous, democratic, leading nations in 2002 and now must be uninvited.
We also should lead the NATO alliance to an immediate decision to suspend operation of the Russia-NATO Council. This body has been extremely important to Russia as it sought to be treated seriously and cooperate closely with the world’s premier military alliance. That relationship must now be suspended. Further, the Russian military and diplomatic representation at NATO should be expelled. A close relationship with Russian defense officials during a time when that country has invaded and occupied a neighbor contravenes the founding purpose of NATO.
Other areas of international cooperation that once appeared to be a tolerable way to enhance Russian prestige and serve Russian self-interest are no longer acceptable. The Olympic games are over and the Paralympics are underway. But now we should together ask FIFA to reconsider its decision to place World Cup 2016 matches in Sochi. It should look for an alternative now so that planning can begin elsewhere.
On the positive side, we must work with other members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to deploy monitors in Ukraine to help confirm that the security of the Russian-speaking population is not threatened. This pretext for Russian aggression must be removed to international satisfaction. I will suggest to my colleagues who are OSCE Commissioners that they lead a Congressional delegation to Ukraine to bolster OSCE’s involvement in addressing the crisis. Further, we should support German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s proposal to create an OSCE Contact Group to pursue dispute resolution and mediate direct negotiations between the Ukrainian and Russian governments.
Unilaterally, we should begin by downgrading our diplomatic representation while retaining its efficacy and announce that we will not be sending a new Ambassador to Moscow. We should dispatch an experienced, hard-nosed diplomat – perhaps a former Ambassador to Ukraine – to serve as chargé d'affaires to handle the crisis and require that Russia reciprocate this move. We should also consider reducing our diplomatic presence to focus exclusively on crisis management, not business as usual. We should close our Consulates General in Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok and require Russia to make reciprocal steps to close consulates in the U.S.
We must also consider a number of steps that will show Russia – especially responsible Russian officials, but also the Russian people – that invasion of its neighbors brings strict and painful isolation. The negative consequences for such irresponsible behavior must be shared.
We in Congress should expand the Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act. This 2012 law sanctions a specific 18 individuals deemed to be responsible for gross violations of human rights contrary to acceptable standards of the rule of law. We should use this vehicle to sanction all Ministry of Defense officials in the chain of command responsible for this invasion, Duma leadership responsible for rubber-stamping it and Crimean officials complicit in its execution.
Lastly, we should also consider sanctions that might serve to convince more segments of the Russian population that their government is taking irresponsible steps contrary to the people’s interests. For example, we should consider suspending Russian eligibility for H-2B Temporary or Seasonal Work Visas and suspending Fulbright and all other educational exchange programs. Participants in those programs in the U.S. now would have to leave.
However it is that we have come to this place of diminished American influence in world events, it is time now for a return to leadership and action. That we are a diminished power is an illusion that gives Putin sparse comfort and false courage. We still have robust capabilities to reward those who join us in responsible, mutually productive cooperation in managing world affairs, and in punishing those who do not.
This is a time of crisis -- no time to wring our hands and long for leverage. Our leverage is our leadership. We need to take up that powerful tool and show Putin that he has misjudged us.