The United States and Europe did right by moving quickly Monday to condemn Russia's incursion into Ukraine. The sanctions imposed by the West are an appropriate first response to the move by the ethnic Russian majority in Crimea to secede from Ukraine and align with Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin needs to see the United States and European Union continue speaking in a strong, united voice against this aggressive behavior. The West should impose broader sanctions if Putin moves further this week to annex the breakaway republic.
Monday's announcement came only hours after the results of Sunday's referendum in Crimea showed near-universal support for breaking away from Ukraine and joining Russia. That outcome, of course, was never in doubt, given Crimea's historical ties to Russia and the presence of up to 20,000 Russian security forces in the region. This was not an exercise in democracy but an example of political cover under the barrel of a gun. The United States and Europe should continue to refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of the vote. Even China abandoned its usual ally over the weekend by refusing to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution that declared the referendum illegal — leaving Russia to cast the sole vote against in a true measure of its international isolation.
The order President Barack Obama signed Monday freezes assets and bans visas for seven Russian government officials, including one of Putin's closest advisers. It also targets Ukraine's ousted, pro-Russian president, his chief of staff and two Crimea-based separatist leaders. The White House said it was serving notice to Russia that interfering with Ukraine's sovereign affairs would carry a cost, and it left the door open to further sanctions. The move followed a similar ban earlier Monday by the European Union, which imposed sanctions against 21 Russian and Crimean separatist leaders. The United States and the Europeans should continue to coordinate their responses. A united front and the willingness to go after Russian leaders and their proxies offers a chance to create a diplomatic opening to resolve the crisis.
Putin is expected to outline a course for Crimea in a speech to the Russian Parliament today. It remains to be seen how Moscow can afford to annex the region, or how far it is willing to risk a new Cold War through the buildup of Russian forces in Crimea. The Western powers should continue to insist that this is a Ukrainian territorial and constitutional matter. And they should provide political and material support to the central government in Kiev to further isolate Russia within the international community.
The United States and Europe should also be prepared to move fast with tougher sanctions. While Putin may appreciate military power first and foremost, the West has formidable influence on Russia's economy and decisionmaking through banks and other international institutions. Putting the heat on Putin is the first step in obtaining leverage in this crisis.