As Vladimir Putin is cementing his power in Crimea, those studying Russia are increasingly concerned that the West has done little to stop Putin’s expansion. Human Rights Foundation Chairman Garry Kasparov warns that anything short of a full assault on Putin’s kleptocracy will fail to stop him.
“It is long past time to stop listening to professors’ lectures about what Putin would never do and high time to respond to what he does — before he does it again,” Kasparov writes in a column for the Washington Post on Friday. He explains that Putin’s ability to win over states like Crimea depends upon knowing that the United States will exert no military force to stop him. He cites two comments from President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry that concern him most: both promise that the United States will not deploy troops to Crimea.
Kasparov argues that any attempt to diffuse tensions by taking military retaliation off the table fails because Putin and his cronies do not have the best interests of Russia in mind. He says, “They do not, except in the few areas where such interests overlap with their goal of looting as much treasure as possible.” When the President explicitly denied the possibility of sending troops to Ukraine, he “freely surrendered one of his greatest advantages: America’s overwhelming military strength.”
That is not to say that Kasparov is arguing for a military attack on Russia. On the contrary, he explicitly lays out a plan to sanction and cripple the powers that be in Russia and split the wealthy backers that keep Putin in power from Putin himself. Putin, Kasparov argues, “is a lost cause, and Russia also will be until he is gone.” But the wealthy who protect him and care only about their own personal comfort are a different story. They stick with Putin, Kasparov states, because “the free world they enjoy living in has made no moves that would force them to choose between their riches and Putin.”
Changing that equation with sanctions or other moves that would cripple their ability to use their wealth freely would turn them against Putin, which would immediately weaken the Russian leader. “Sanction the elites who support Putin, go after the family members they use to hide their assets abroad and scrutinize their companies,” Kasparov advises.
Kasparov, who made his name as a chess legend before becoming a human rights advocate and dedicating his career to fighting the oppressive Putin regime, has reason to fear that President Obama’s diminished global presence will expand Putin’s influence. Kasparov fled Russia after Putin’s administration began to persecute him for speaking out against them. He has since campaigned for the West to take the threat of Putin’s expansion more seriously, as have many in Eastern Europe that fear Putin’s resurgence.
Kasparov is not alone in his warnings that Putin will not stop at Crimea. Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who found himself abandoned by the West when Putin invaded the western Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008, wrote in a recent column in The Guardian that he had made the same argument about Georgia: Putin would not stop there. Now that Putin has ensconced himself in Ukraine, Transnistria, a region in Moldova, is clamoring to be annexed into Russia, as well. Whether Putin will send troops there next, or to Estonia, is anyone’s guess.