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Sanctions Put the Ball Back in Putin’s Court

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Probably the most important cost of using sanctions to punish countries for behavior the International Community deems unacceptable is that an isolated state can act with impunity given it has no interests in preserving international connections, yet it is one that is rarely discussed. With both the US and Europe ratcheting up economic sanctions on Russia for its ongoing involvement in the Ukrainian Crisis to the point the Russian economy will suffer from irreversible long-term damage within months, unless sanctions are lifted, Russian President Vladimir Putin is facing a clear choice. The United States is already presenting evidence of Russia arming pro-Russian separatists, as well as attacking Ukrainian forces from within Russia, while the conflict has already resulted in the deaths of foreign civilians withMalaysian Flight 17, thus Putin must eventually choose to capitulate on his attempts to subdue Ukraine or engage in outright war in an attempt to achieve his goals before attempting to make peace with the world.

Should Putin choose the latter, it would certainly mean sanctions would not disappear in a timely manner while pursuing such a course would likely instill a further distrust in Russia that would cost the Russian People a great number of future opportunities. Demonstrating an ongoing effort to deescalate and resolve the conflict, coupled with the decision to no longer support the separatists in any sort of way, the West would very quickly make a deal to lift economic sanctions with a process in place to verify Putin’s long-term sincerity. In turn, Russia and the rest of the world could then focus on reestablishing our partnerships with Russia. In addition, the International Community could also use such an opportunity to address our failure to treat Russia as a fully integrated member of the International Community, instead of a friendly Cold War enemy, which is partially driving this conflict.

That said, the truth is that the International Community largely lacks the ability to enforce its will. This is particularly self-evident when considering UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’sdesperate calls for Israel and Hamas to stop fighting, even though a large part of the reason the Israeli-Hamas conflict garners so much attention is that many feel the situation, unlike other crises in places like Syria and Iraq, could be immediately halted with the aid of diplomacy. When it comes down it, might does make right and the International Community lacks might, unless the US and/or enough allies choose to enforce international norms. It is, therefore, important to recognize the building of the International Community hinged on the West offering would-be member states benefits for signing on to their vision. In reality, social institutions like the UN, democracy, law, treaty law, capitalism, socialism, etc. are only embraced when those with power, whether that be armed individuals and/or a People en mass, accept arguments in favor of these ideas and that only happens when they see results in a timely manner.

A great deal of the time, the International Community does not serve the interests of most nations, but there are benefits for those costs. Because a modern society relies on a myriad of raw goods and products that no national economy can fully provide, the global economy represents one very big benefit for following the rules of the International Community. If Putin views this benefit to be far less attractive than what he thinks he will get from the domination of Ukraine, the Ukrainian People will soon see greater devastation. If Putin values Russian membership in the International Community, and/or the Russian People do, the Ukrainian Crisis should end within weeks to months.

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