5 policy responses to the Russian invasion of Ukraine

With Russia consolidating its position in Crimea, here's how the West can respond.

Russia forces are now in full control of Crimea, despite the fact that the Ukranian government says the Russian army has “no grounds” to be there. Events are moving quickly, but what is certain is that the West must respond to Russian aggression firmly while avoiding an all-out war between East and West.

David Cameron and Barack Obama have agreed that Russia must face “significant costs” if it does not change course over the Ukraine crisis. Here are five options for the West to consider:

1. An asset freeze

This would include visa restrictions, targeted bans on Russian officials and the freezing of Russian assets in the West. There is also scope for targeted sanctions against Russian corporations. Russia would veto any attempt to impose a travel ban on Russian officials through the UN, but there is no reason the UK and US could not act unilaterally tp punish the Russian government for its violation of Ukranian territory. As Mark Galeotti puts it, the most powerful weapon against the Kremlin is one targeting the elites on which it depends.

2. Suspend Russia from the G8

Removing Russia from the G8 tops the list of likely Western responses to the invasion of Crimea. In order to do this, however, the other seven members would need to band together to push Russia out. This probably wouldn’t be a problem – the G8 has already put out a statement saying it is suspending its participation in preparing for the summit in Sochi “until the environment comes back where the G-8 is able to have meaningful discussion”. The real question is whether it would have any discernable effect on Putin.

3. Enact trade sanctions against Russia

Trade between the US and Russia reached $40 billion last year – or 1 percent of total US trade, according to US Commerce Department data. Reducing trade with Russia would upset the Kremlin, which has recently been lobbying for greater trade agreements with the US. In order to be effective and send a clear message of displeasure to Moscow, sanctions against Russia could be combined with an economic package to assist the new government in Ukraine.

4. Bolster missile defence in Eastern Europe

The Obama administration has the option of reversing its decision to scrap missile defense plans for Eastern Europe, a decision made by President Obama as a way of trying to ‘reset’ US relations with the Kremlin. At the time Obama was trying to work with Russia to reduce nuclear-weapon stockpiles. There is very little reason to seek such cooperation now. American Senator John McCain appears to have a point when he says that the Obama administration was probably mistaken for believing that somehow there would be a reset with a guy who was a KGB colonel who always had ambitions to restore the Russian empire.

5. Bring Ukraine into NATO and speed up the process of Georgia joining the alliance

Since the late 1990s NATO has been reaching out to Russia to assuage the country’s fears that the defense alliance is a threat to the country. This has involved cooperation between the Kremlin and NATO, including the creation of a NATO-Russia Council which meets frequently to exchange concerns. Considering that the situation has now dramatically changed, there is little reason for continued cooperation with the Kremlin. The West should go further, however, and should give the new Ukranian government the choice of joining the alliance. It should also speed up the process of Georgia joining.

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