As I write this, President Obama is announcing a list of limited sanctions against specific individuals in the Russian government meant to punish them for “violating Ukraine’s sovereignty.” The idea is to go after the personal finances of top Russian and Ukraine officials, including the former president of Ukraine and members of Putin’s inner-circle. Putin, though, is not on the list.
Greg White, the Moscow Bureau Chief for the Wall Street Journal reports that news of the White House sanctions did not have the intended effect. Relieved over how limited they are, the Russian market enjoyed a rally:
Strong signal? Russian markets rally on relief that sanctions lists limited #ukraine
— greg white (@whitegl) March 17, 2014
President Obama made clear in his statement that he is giving himself room to increase the pain through further sanctions. But Russia also has the power to retaliate financially against a Europe and Ukraine that relies on Putin’s growing empire for energy.
Overall, the Obama White House and much of the mainstream media seem to believe that economic pressure against Putin is some sort of silver bullet to stop his empire building. Russian history says different. Putin is a student and acolyte of his predecessors, Stalin and Lenin. Marxist-Leninist thinking is long-term, not based on that day’s poll or focus group.
For decades, Stalin, Lenin, and Trotsky labored for the Revolution under the belief they would not live to see it — that it was a generation or two away. October of 1917 surprised them as much as anyone. Afterwards, the Russian peoples were allowed to suffer in unspeakable ways for decades as a way to fulfill the Revolution.
If past is prologue, Putin is more than willing to let his people suffer in furtherance of a hundred-year goal to rebuild the Soviet Empire.
Thus far, Putin has been wildly unpredictable, but only to an American government and media that failed and continues to fail to understand the way a former KGB officer longing for the good old days of the Soviet Union would think. Obama and the West, though, seem to be working off a predictable template. If that template has surprised Putin at all it is likely only due to how slow and weak the roll-out of that template has been.