Putin Interprets the West’s Gradualism as a Sign of Weakness

Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Barack Obama, Feb. 26, 2012Maybe President Obama is catching on to Vladimir Putin. The Russian President keeps ignoring Mr. Obama’s pleas to stop carving up Ukraine, and at last on Thursday the U.S. President responded by imposing some sanctions worth the name. . . .

As welcome as these additions are, they still reflect a strategy that keeps the U.S. one step behind Mr. Putin. . . .

The Obama policy of gradually increasing sanctions treats Mr. Putin like a wayward son who can be brought in line if he’s grounded for a couple weeks. It ignores that he is a determined revanchist leading a nuclear-armed nation that wants to rewrite the post-Cold War order in Europe and dominate its neighbors up to the German border. Mr. Putin views gradualism as a sign of weakness.

The better strategy is to impose enough immediate and substantial pain on Mr. Putin, his friends and the Russian economy that he’ll decide that the costs of his depredations are higher than the costs of stopping. That means comprehensive financial sanctions that force the world’s banks to choose between doing business with the U.S. or with Russia.

Mr. Obama should also signal a commitment to end Russia’s dominance in European energy by immediately approving all U.S. natural gas export terminal applications. And he should announce that next week during his trip to Europe he and the other G-7 leaders will discuss plans to provide military aid to Ukraine and forward deploy American and European forces to front-line NATO states.

Image: Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Barack Obama, Feb. 26, 2012 (photo: Pete Souza/White House)