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U.S. Threats Against Putin Will Only Backfire

Published: March 7, 2014 (Issue # 1800)


As pressure on U.S. President Barack Obama to "do something to punish Russia" over Ukraine mounts, the U.S. has turned to a couple of measures in their foreign policy toolkit, such as threatening President Vladimir Putin with sanctions and expulsion from the Group of Eight. U.S. Senator John McCain even repeated the line he used during the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, saying, "We are all Ukrainians now."

How will Putin react to these threats?

Most likely, Putin will simply ignore the West. First of all, preventing Ukraine from turning decisively West is an existential issue for Putin and the Russian establishment. U.S. policymakers and commentators have missed this fact from the very beginning of the Ukrainian crisis last November. While the U.S. national interests in Ukraine are tangential, Russia's certainly are not. Although the ruble and the Russian stock markets are down, Putin, it would seem, is prepared to incur substantial economic and political pain if necessary before he caves to the Western position on Ukraine.

Related:Why There Will Be War in Ukraine

Second, it looks increasingly likely that Washington's European allies, especially Germany, are not prepared to go along with the U.S. position on sanctioning Russia. U.S. trade and investment in Russia is minimal anyway, so why would we expect Putin to give U.S. threats a second thought going forward?

Third, the threat of punishments will only make a dangerous situation even worse by needlessly antagonizing Russia with no upside. For the West to threaten the Kremlin will only back Putin into a corner domestically. Putin's political strength both within the Russian establishment and among common Russians is heavily predicated on his ability to demonstrate that Russia is a great power. Caving in to U.S. threats would be tantamount to political suicide.

Imagine if the tables were turned, and Russia, along with its allies, had threatened the U.S. with sanctions after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Former President George W. Bush would have simply ignored the threats, of course.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Friday, Aug. 29


Park Pobedy will feature the sights and sounds of the world outside of Russia during the Open Art International Festival today. Taste foreign cuisine, learn how to make tea like the Chinese or relax in a hammock during the free event. Although entrance is free, you must register beforehand if you wish to attend.



Saturday, Aug. 30


Break out the tweed and channel your inner Englishman during the English Hunt Picnic this afternoon organized by the Bagmut stables from Krasny Bor in the Leningrad Oblast. Equestrian stunts, English archery and classic hunting fashion will all be available to visitors hoping to live like the characters in “Downton Abbey” if only for a day. Tickets for the event cost 7,900 rubles ($219.40).


Bookworms will have their chance to swap out well-read classics for something new for their bookshelves at Knigovorot, a free book exchange that will be held in the Yusupov Garden on Sadovaya Ulitsa today. Come for the chance to get a new book or take the opportunity to discuss the literary merits of your favorite authors with fellow fans.



Sunday, Aug. 31


The Neva Delta International Blues Festival wraps up this afternoon on Vasilevsky Island with a concert featuring not only some of Russia’s best blues bands but international stars as well. Admission is free for all three days of the festival, which begins on Aug. 29, and the shows starting at 5 p.m. each day.



Monday, Sept. 1


Today marks the beginning of Lermontov-Fest, a fall festival celebrating the life of one of Russia’s most remarkable poets who, in a fate eerily similar to Pushkin’s, was killed in a duel at the age of 26. Organized by the Lermontov Library System, the next several months will see art exhibitions, concerts and public lectures focusing on the Lermontov’s short yet prolific career. Check the Lermontov Library System’s website for more details.



Tuesday, Sept. 2


Join expats and practice your Russian during the Russian Club’s weekly meetings every Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. The club is free to participate in although you need to be a registered member of Couchsurfing.



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