Now that Russian President Vladimir Putin has annexed Crimea, the Obama administration continues to “talk tough” about how we’re going to “punish Putin” for his aggression.
Even before Russian troops entered Crimea, Secretary of State John Kerry said annexation would violate international law. He warned Putin that the Obama administration was poised to “punish Russia with visa bans and banking and business sanctions.”
Kerry also hinted darkly, “I don’t want to go into all the details, except to say this: It can get ugly fast [if] the wrong choices are made.” But talk is cheap – and actions can be costly. Sanctions on Russia are unlikely to deter a defiant Putin. Instead, they could harm American business interests in Russia.
Moreover, Germany, which relies on Russia for roughly one-third of its natural gas, is hesitant about slapping sanctions on Russia. So are other European nations with much to lose on sanctions. Although European Union leaders have agreed to levy “travel restrictions and asset freezes on Russian officials for annexing Crimea,” such actions amount to pinpricks for Putin as he persists in his power play in Crimea.
Putin’s trump card in this crisis is Russia’s vast supplies of natural gas. He has what Europe needs. He knows that – and so does Europe. No doubt, this “supply and demand” situation was a factor in his decision to annex Crimea. Whether Putin is “crazy,” as some Western analysts assert or “crazy like a fox” remains to be seen. However his power play pans out, it’s more Europe’s problem than ours.
One thing is clear, though. This is no time for saber-rattling on the USA’s part. Gazprom, the Russian gas company poses no serious economic threat to our nation’s vital interests. We have natural gas aplenty for domestic consumption, and some for export, too.
The recent boom in U.S. natural gas production is a far cry from the natural gas shortage our nation suffered in the bitter winter of 1977. Nearly 40 years later, we are well positioned to compete overseas with Russia and other foreign natural gas suppliers.
In my view, any kind of unilateral U.S. military intervention in the Crimean crisis would be a fool’s errand. After two prolonged, costly and controversial conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, we don’t need a third one to remind us that wars are easier to start than they are to finish.
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at email@example.com.