Vladimir Putin has been known to flout his bravado over the years with the steely eyed resolve of a former GRU officer, raised in the ways of the old KGB. Lately he appears to be thumbing his nose at international norms more than usual. The question is whether or not the international community has truly had enough and will do more than pay lip service to putting him in his place. After all, Georgia and the Ukraine came and went and Putin came out no worse for the wear effectively emboldening him to where he is today.
This week NATO began to push back on Putin, when Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary General of NATO, criticised Russia’s “pattern of reckless behaviour” and supported Britain’s decision to expel 23 Russian diplomats over accusations the Kremlin as involved in a nerve-agent attack on a former spy in Salisbury.
The NATO chief said they would not try to “isolate Russia” but added they “would respond” if Putin continued to “behave” in the way it is. Stoltenberg went on to say “I am absolutely certain that Russia has underestimated the resolve and the unity of NATO allies when we have implemented different kind of sanctions over the previous years. The economic sanctions have been effective and they have come from all NATO allies and many other countries.”
Ok, so NATO supports sanctions and the expulsion of diplomats—but until Europe gets off the teet of Russian oil and natural gas, and Russia doesn’t hold a permanent seat on the UN Security Council—what affect will it really have? To borrow an old phrase from the 1990’s, Putin don’t play.
The Russian leader told NBC’s Megyn Kelly this month that in using power, you “must be ready to go all the way to achieve the goals.”
But until now—aggressive covert action to murder a former Russian double agent and his daughter with a nerve agent on British soil and information operations. Active measures not withstanding— Putin has been playing a weak hand well, but the high cards remain in Western hands. So how can the United States and its closest allies alter Putin’s behavior, if they’re truly serious about holding Russia to account? The answer, say several former senior CIA officials, is to use America’s network of alliances to put Russia under strain.
Russia’s greatest vulnerability is its dependence on sales of oil and gas. Here, the United States is uniquely positioned for putting the screws to them with the impending visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as he’s known. The Saudi has a deal with Moscow to limit oil production in order to keep prices above $60. If he is genuine about earning American friendship, he should suspend this oil deal to punish Russia for its unacceptable actions.
Russia has also thus far been getting a pass on its activities in Syria, thanks to its courtship of Turkey and backroom dealings with Israel. If the world is serious about curbing Russian bad behavior, it needs to put a coalition together that has real teeth and put and end to all the back channel shenanigans.
What say your SOFREP? What’s it going to take? Sound off in the comments!