Sanctions on the Installment Plan

WARSAW – Western leaders remain undecided about their next steps in trying to stop Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine. But one thing has become abundantly clear: their timid efforts so far – personal sanctions, an embargo on weapons exports, and the temporary suspension of Russia’s G-8 membership – have proved to be far from adequate to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin to back down.

Fortunately, there is a simple solution: a European Union embargo on imports of Russian raw materials, especially oil and gas. Just how manageable would an import embargo be?

There are, of course, good reasons why the EU has not taken this step already. Europe depends on Russian energy supplies, and European banks and businesses are highly exposed to Russia. But, with a carefully calibrated strategy, damage to Europe’s economy could be avoided.

More to the point, Europe does not really have a choice. As Putin’s desire to establish himself in Russian history as an imperial aggrandizer – alongside Ivan the Terrible, Catherine the Great, and Lenin – becomes increasingly apparent, so does the need for decisive action from the EU. Indeed, unless Putin is stopped, his appetite is likely to become even more voracious, turning toward the Baltic States, Moldova, or Central Asia – with increasingly serious consequences for European security.