The Big Chill

The United States and its allies have imposed stinging sanctions on Russia. To make them work, they need to hold fast.

The sanctions that were placed on Bank Rossiya on Friday, March 21, have sent shock waves through Russian business and financial circles. In the intervening days, hundreds of thousands of Russians have lost access to Visa and MasterCard services. Russian oligarchs have stopped boasting that they are on the U.S. blacklist as international bankers and have begun to shy away from their businesses -- and their access to credit dried up while their stock prices tumbled. Russian owners of mining, metals, energy, financial services, engineering, and defense firms are now terrified that sanctions on their sectors are next.

Now that the financial sanctions that the United States and its allies in the European Union imposed on Russia after its illegal annexation of Crimea are beginning to work, the challenge is to not relax, but rather to increase the pressure until Ukrainian sovereignty is solidified. In 2008, following the Russian-Georgian war, the West took similar steps to punish Russia for violating the territorial integrity of a sovereign neighbor, but subsequently relaxed them, implicitly accepting Putin's fait accompli and setting a precedent for another attack, this time on Ukraine. The West must now prove it has learned from that mistake. The regime of international sanctions that the United States and Europe imposed has real bite, and they must stay in place, and increase, until clear objectives are met, ensuring the new Ukrainian government in Kiev is on solid political and financial ground.

So far the Americans and Europeans have stayed firm. They've put in place two rounds of restrictions on the assets and visas of Russian officials responsible for the decisions to invade Crimea, conduct a sham referendum, and illegally incorporate Crimea into the Russian Federation; the United States has included sanctions on oligarchs close to the Kremlin. More rounds should follow. This kind of ratcheting up of the sanctions will convince the Russians that the United States and Europe are serious and steadfast.

The West now should agree on the outcomes it needs to see in order to stop adding to the sanctions on individuals, banks, and sectors of the Russian economy. Sanctions should continue to expand until the Kremlin agrees to change course.

First, Moscow must halt its efforts to destabilize the Ukrainian government. The provocative deployment of Russian military forces now threatening Ukraine's eastern border has to end, and those units should immediately return to their barracks. Further, the Russian special forces, intelligence agents, and provocateurs that have been sent into eastern Ukraine to fuel chaos and violence must get out. Otherwise, sanctions continue.

Second, Moscow should begin a dialogue with Kiev to address and fairly resolve the myriad political and economic issues between them -- this should include Crimea. Until the peninsula is returned to Ukraine or its status is agreed between the two countries, the Kremlin should pay the citizens and government of Ukraine rent for the property and economic assets stolen in the illegal Russian occupation. Military bases, military equipment, government buildings, and privately-owned economic assets that pay taxes to the Ukrainian government are worth billions of dollars. The prices that the Russians must pay Ukraine for the natural gas, electricity, and water supplied to Crimea from Ukraine should also be addressed in these negotiations. The price for natural gas, for example, would surely be no less than the Russians charge the Ukrainian utility Naftagaz for gas sent from Russia.

Third, Putin's government must commit to follow World Trade Organization (WTO) rules that ensure the free flow of trade between the two countries. Both are members of the WTO and both should follow the rules. This must be immediate in both declaration and behavior; threats to disrupt trade are unacceptable between WTO members and WTO sanctions can be imposed.

If the Kremlin agrees to these measures, which respect Ukraine's sovereignty, the step-by-step increases in sanctions should level off. If they do not, the steps should continue to hit more Russians -- including the oligarchs' families -- more banks, and more sectors of the economy.

Of course, if Putin moves to seize Ukraine's east by force, that would demand much stronger additional sanctions. President Obama has already announced his authority to sanction entire sectors of the Russian economy. He must be prepared to use that authority, and the Europeans must join.

Putin has committed the most blatant European land grab since the end of the Cold War. If he knows that further aggression against Ukraine will lead to American and European sanctions on the financial and energy sectors that have helped maintain Russia's influence on the world stage, the odds of his launching the Red Army drop precipitously.

The West has significant financial and economic leverage with Russia. Now, it needs to use it.

Jerry Lampen - Pool/Getty Images


The Asia Pivot Needs a Firm Footing in the Middle East

Why Washington can't afford to neglect its friends in the Gulf.

President Barack Obama heads to the Gulf this week at a time of major geopolitical turmoil, with events in Crimea and Russia dominating the headlines. None of this disorder is American-made, of course, and none will be solved by America on its own. But as the U.S. president will hear during his visit, American leadership is still as important to global stability and security as it ever was, and nowhere more than in the Middle East.

Recently, that leadership -- and the security partnerships that bolster it -- have been tested and strained. Now facing ever more complex regional challenges from Egypt's transition to a potential nuclear deal with Iran, the president can use his meeting with Saudi King Abdullah this week to signal a new phase of engagement with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other regional allies of the United States.

"Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world's problems alone. We have sought -- in word and deed -- a new era of engagement with the world," Obama said in his 2009 speech at the United Nations. We welcomed that sentiment then and embrace it as enthusiastically now.

So what should this engagement look like today? It starts with a strong U.S. reaffirmation of our shared vital interests in the Middle East. It is a long and difficult "to do" list that includes containing the Iranian nuclear threat, challenging extremism and fighting terrorism, stabilizing Egypt, ending the violence in Syria, advancing an Arab-Israeli peace, and protecting energy supplies and international shipping.

It also requires better communication. At a working level, there is a constant and productive rhythm of cabinet-level meetings and senior official visits. But relationships in the Middle East are built on personal contact, and maintaining a candid and vibrant dialogue with regular leader-to-leader contact is essential.

For our part, we understand that the path forward is close collaboration with the United States and other regional allies. A strong partnership is essential. In meeting shared threats, we will share the burden. Gulf defense capabilities have improved dramatically, and we are committed to investing even more. Gulf states have a range of sophisticated U.S.-made defense equipment on order; they are jointly deploying advanced missile defense systems; and our militaries continue to train and operate closely together.

In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), we know also that a security partnership can only be strengthened by constant interaction. The UAE has proved its value and commitment both on and off the battlefield, alongside the United States. As a five-time participant in multinational peacekeeping coalitions, we have been fighting together for more than 12 years in Afghanistan, and in Libya we conducted joint air missions. Ongoing UAE-U.S. intelligence cooperation has disrupted illicit money and arms flows. And joint naval and air operations maintain freedom of navigation in the Gulf.

U.S. relationships in the Middle East, of course, are rooted in more than just shared security interests. There are ever stronger cultural and commercial ties. In 2013, Gulf states imported more than $50 billion in U.S. goods and services, and they have hundreds of billions of dollars invested in America. U.S. universities and cultural and medical institutions such as New York University, the Cleveland Clinic, and the Guggenheim have outposts throughout the region. And tens of thousands of our students are attending colleges throughout the United States.

In short, there is a lot that binds us together. And we have to continue to count on each other to meet the challenges and opportunities ahead in what is still the most dangerous of neighborhoods. As friends and allies, we may not agree on every issue or every tactic, but there are urgent initiatives that we can work on together that set the stage now for more positive developments later. These include: cooperating on an economic stabilization plan for Egypt, shutting down money flows to the extremist opposition in Syria, building governance capacity in Libya, and joint planning for the "day after" the Iran talks conclude -- deal or no deal.

When Obama visits, the president will be reminded that in the Gulf we still see the United States as an irreplaceable pillar of regional security. With unsteady neighbors, expansionist dreamers, and violent nonstate actors all around us, we cannot go it alone. We need friends; and no friend is more important to us than Washington.

In turn, the United States should know that we are eager and willing to contribute to our collective security interests. While the talk out of Washington continues about a "pivot to Asia," U.S. energy independence, and new budget priorities, very few in the Middle East truly believe the U.S. commitment is waning. Even so, it is important for the president to reaffirm America's sustained commitment to the region during his visit.

Yet we are realistic -- all partnerships must adapt with the times. But we also know that the vital interests that connect us -- the threat of aggression and terrorism, the benefits of trade and commerce, the values of peace and moderation -- remain as strong today as ever before.

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images