On Monday President Obama announced a slew of economically oriented sanctions to punish the behavior of Russian and Ukrainian officials who collaborated to ultimately annex the Crimea into the Russian geography on Tuesday.
The sanctions targeted only eleven individuals, seven Russian and four Ukrainians, seizing any assets in the United States, as well as barring them from traveling to the U.S. This is despite the fact that those targeted are not thought to have any large amounts of assets in the U.S, nor are they prominent individuals relative to the oligarchs and top bureaucrats in the region.
When asked why no penalties were applied to more senior officials of the Putin regime or even Putin himself, an Obama Administration spokesman responded that it would be, “a highly unusual and rather extraordinary case for the United States to sanction a head of state of another country.”Such a statement almost implies that the invasion of a sovereign country like the Ukraine really isn’t a big deal that calls for unusual or extraordinary measures. One would think that such a brazen move to secure the economically and militarily viable strategic position of the Black Sea by force and phony elections would call for a more pronounced response.
More hawkish members of the U.S government such as Senator John McCain took to Twitter after the sanctions were announced. “Incredibly Pres Obama’s stmt didn’t mention military assistance to #Ukraine, a sovereign nation that’s been invaded by #Russia,” he wrote soon after.
While such a response would not be wise on many different levels, a timelier example would lie in the fact that current military spending in the U.S has been regressing to pre-WWII era levels. United States Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has said that the steep cuts coming by 2016 and beyond could slash 20,000 to 30,000 soldiers from the Army and 7,000 from the Marine Corps, with broad national security implications.
To put the cuts in perspective, the Army only has 520,000 soldiers and the Marines only 182,000 personnel.
Save for executive order, it’s clear the current cuts would interfere with any fantasies of military intervention against the opposing superpower, and with NATO’s hesitancy to offer military assistance in last year’s Syrian crisis, it is unlikely that aide to the people of the Ukraine lay in that alliance.
The President should strongly consider more harsh sanctions against Russia for its campaign of aggression towards the Ukraine. While a military response is not a viable option in face of present cuts, there are a variety of sanctions that the U.S and the United Nations could impose to really put on the “hurt” if necessary.
The U.S could take a page from the playbook of sanctions against North Korea and impose bans on exports of certain goods and technology listed by the UN, an embargo on arms and related materials, bans on exports of luxury goods, among other things.
Even if the current light sanctions were applied to Putin himself or the slew of billionaire oligarchs under him who have substantial holdings in the U.S, perhaps the Russians would take the American response and commitment to the Ukraine as more genuine. To call the current limitations a slap on the wrist would almost be too severe.