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The Sanctions Game

1:11 PM, May 17, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
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In the Ukraine crisis, the weapons of choice for the Obama administration and NATO have been lots of stern talks followed up by exceedingly anemic sanctions.

But weak sanctions yield weak results and they tend to cut both ways even if they don’t draw equal volumes of blood. If a nation is no longer permitted to import this or that, then someone, somewhere is losing out on some export business. Sanctions can be truly effective when imposed on a pariah nation as upon the country that was once Rhodesia. Even so, landlocked and without a friend in the world, it held out for many, many months before capitulating and becoming Zimbabwe.

Russia is not Rhodesia. In a sanctions showdown, it actually holds some pretty high cards in the form of oil and gas.

And, then, there is matter of those nations that are not inclined to harm their own economic interests in order to comply with the sanctions regime. Some do this clandestinely. Others are out front about it, as are the French in the current crisis. They made a contract, back when Ukraine was not much on anyone’s mind, to build some warships for the Russian navy in a deal that is worth some $1.6 billion to the French.  The ships are ready for launch and, as Michael R. Gordon of the New York Times reports:

… despite American objections, the sale is still on track, and the first ship is scheduled for delivery late this year.

And, then, Russia can play offense in the sanctions game.  For instance, as Joseph Stromberg of Vox.com writes, by declaring:

… that starting in 2020, it will no longer allow NASA astronauts on the International Space Station, in retaliation for sanctions levied by the US because of  Russia's invasion of Crimea.

So far, sanctions don’t seem to have made much of an impression on Vladimir Putin.  Which leaves strong words of condemnation.

We can do that.

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