The economist Anders Aslund is quite optimistic, telling the New York Times’s Peter Baker that, “Russia can be forced out of Crimea with the combination of financial sanctions plus straightforward hard diplomacy,” Tufts University’s Daniel Drezner (right) writes for Foreign Policy:
Is he right? I know a littlesomething about sanctions, and so, in response to popular demand, I feel obligated to weigh in on whether economic coercion will work in this instance. But you won’t like my answer: even perfectly-designed economic sanctions won’t eject the Russians from Crimea, and what will be implemented in the coming days and weeks will be far from perfect. But the United States should impose sanctions anyway.
The only case of economic coercion succeeding in a similar case in history was the 1956 Suez crisis. In that case, Britain, France, and Israel withdrew their forces from the Suez Canal following a U.S.-inspired run on the pound sterling.
But sanctions will not force Russia out of the Crimea. This doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be imposed. Indeed, there are two excellent reasons why the United States should orchestrate and then implement as tough as set of sanctions on Russia as it can muster.
First, this problem is going to crop up again. Vladimir Putin has now invaded two neighbors in six years to destabilize regimes perceived to be hostile to him. Post-Crimea, any new Ukraine government will continue to be hostile to the Russian Federation. There are other irredentist areas in the former Soviet Union — *cough* Transnistria *cough* — where Putin will be tempted to intervene over the next decade. At a minimum, he should be forced to factor in the cost of sanctions when calculating whether to meddle in his near abroad again. President Obama was correct to point out the “costs” to Putin for his behavior — now he has to follow through on that pledge.
Second, while sanctions cannot solve this problem on their own, they can be part of the solution. Over the long term, Russia does need to export energy to finance its government and fuel economic growth. Even if planned sanctions won’t bite in the present, the anticipation of tougher economic coercion to come is a powerful lever in international bargaining. The closer the European Union moves towards joining the U.S. sanctioning effort, the more that Russia has to start thinking about the long-term implications of its actions. Any political settlement over the future of Ukraine will require compromise by the new Ukrainian government and its supporters in the West. Imposing sanctions now creates a bargaining chip that can be conceded in the future.