Ten Ways the West Can Punish Putin

In the Magazine
A Russian flag featuring Prime Minister Vladimir Putin flies above his supporters as they celebrate Putin's victory as they rally at the central Manezhnaya Square just outside the Kremlin in Moscow, March 5, 2012. Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images

Kick Russia Out of the G8

Secretary of State John Kerry has said Moscow's Ukraine occupation "puts at question Russia's capacity to be within the G8," the forum that brings together Russia and the seven largest economies. Kicking Russia out may be the likeliest - and easiest - first step. Russia holds the G8's rotating presidency and hosts the next summit in Sochi in May. As the U.S. and Europe have signaled they will not be there, Putin will face an empty conference hall.  

Boycott the Sochi Paralympics

Putin hoped the Winter Olympics would restore Russia to respectability. After his hostility to homosexuals and his brutal treatment of Pussy Riot, he was lucky to escape angry protests. The U.S. will not send a presidential delegation to the Paralympics, which start on March 7. Others, including visitors bearing hard currency, may follow suit.

No-Fly List

If Russian oligarchs find themselves unable to visit London, Cyprus, New York or their secret bank accounts in Switzerland, Putin will find himself in a pinch with a key constituency. U.S. officials are working on a list of prominent Russians to be put on a no-fly list. This tactic has successfully isolated Iranians, Iraqis and North Koreans in the past, and there's a precedent in the current crisis: The U.S. imposed a visa ban on 20 pro-Russian Ukrainian officials after protesters in Kiev were killed by security forces last month.

Defriend Russians

While the U.S. and Russia are not close allies, cooperation between the two exists on a variety of topics. One way Washington could send a strong condemnation is by cutting these off all official links. Already, a Russian delegation has been disinvited from talks on energy cooperation in Washington and planned discussions about naval cooperation have been "indefinitely postponed."

Freeze Oligarchs' Assets

Russia's oligarchs keep their money squirreled away in secret tax havens, from Switzerland to Cyprus. Freezing bank accounts is one way to put pressure on them and, in turn, on Putin. The European Union is preparing to freeze the assets of Russians and others responsible for "misappropriation of state funds."

A Trade Blockade

Russia engages in tens of billions of dollars of trade with the U.S. and Western Europe each year. So isolating Russia by putting restrictions on imports and exports will be painful. Republican lawmakers have been quick to call for trade sanctions, with some suggesting Russia be booted from the World Trade Organization.

Turn Off the Gas

Oil and natural gas are Russia's biggest exports and the foundation on which Putin built a prosperous Russia. Europe buys between a third and a half of its natural gas from Russia. Moscow has used its gas reserves as a weapon before, but in a world with ever-cheaper natural gas, that weapon is two-edged. Thanks to fracking, the United States enjoys a gas glut and is ready to step in if Putin turns off the tap.

Place Missiles in Poland

Russia has long objected to U.S. and NATO plans to build a Europe-based missile shield system, designed to deter Iranian attacks, including bases in Poland and the Czech Republic. Plans to install the missiles were postponed after Putin's protests. Now is a good time to build the silos.

Let the Markets Decide

Does the U.S. government need to punish Russia or are global financial markets capable of doing that themselves? Since its occupation of Crimea, investors have struck Russia where it hurts. The prospect of sanctions has pushed up borrowing costs and sent the ruble tumbling. The Soviet Union ignored the free market; Putin cannot afford to.

Send in the Troops

"We're not discussing military options, our concentration is on diplomatic and economic pressure," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said recently. An open confrontation with the country that holds the world's second-largest stockpile of nuclear weapons remains highly unlikely. But Kerry did say that all options are on the table.

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