Security Insiders: Sanctions Won’t Encourage Putin to Diplomatically Resolve Crisis in Ukraine

Virtually all Insiders also say there’s no chance of peace between Israel and the Palestinians in Obama’s last term.

Matryoshka dolls in the likeness of then-Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Obama stand on display at a souvenir stall St. Petersburg in 2010.
National Journal
Sara Sorcher
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Sara Sorcher
May 5, 2014, 5:28 p.m.

An over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of 87.5 per­cent of Na­tion­al Journ­al’s Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity In­siders do not be­lieve new U.S. sanc­tions will en­cour­age Pres­id­ent Vladi­mir Putin to dip­lo­mat­ic­ally re­solve the crisis in Ukraine.  

Un­for­tu­nately for Pres­id­ent Obama, that was the stated goal of the sanc­tions he levied against Rus­si­an of­fi­cials and com­pan­ies last week. “Sanc­tions or no sanc­tions, Vladi­mir Putin will do what he thinks best to re­store Rus­si­an he­ge­mony and in­flu­ence in his back­yard,” one In­sider said. 

Putin has already made his de­cision to take parts of east­ern Ukraine, an­oth­er In­sider said, and he sees the tough sanc­tions talk as a bluff, one In­sider said. “He knows the West isn’t pre­pared to im­pose sanc­tions that will have ad­verse ef­fects on West­ern eco­nom­ies, and he’s con­fid­ent Rus­sia can en­dure any­thing short of that.”

Rus­sia can make oth­er trade ar­range­ments with parties like China and In­dia, an­oth­er In­sider ad­ded.

Sanc­tions may already be too little, too late, one In­sider said. The eco­nom­ic pres­sure could be enough to de­ter Rus­sia from send­ing a mil­it­ary force across the bor­der in­to Ukraine, “but “¦ Putin has already destabil­ized it con­sid­er­ably with his ac­tions in East­ern Ukraine,” the In­sider noted. “So even if Rus­sia were to rein in its pro­voc­at­ive ac­tions, the crisis will be on­go­ing.”

A small minor­ity of In­siders said the sanc­tions could change Putin’s cal­cu­lus. “While mod­est, the sanc­tions have led to not­able mar­ket shock: Cap­it­al out­flows from Rus­sia have skyrock­eted, the coun­try’s GDP is pro­jec­ted to fall by sev­er­al per­cent­age points, and in­vestors are hedging for fear of more sanc­tions,” one In­sider said.

But even those op­tim­ist­ic about sanc­tions en­cour­aging a polit­ic­al solu­tion in Ukraine had their doubts. “Putin and his ex-KGB cronies can­not be coun­ted on to make ra­tion­al de­cisions, so the risk of a wider in­va­sion will re­main for some time,” the In­sider con­tin­ued. What’s more, sanc­tions’ ef­fects “won’t be seen for a long time,” an­oth­er In­sider said. “Putin may well use his army to seize more of Ukraine be­fore the sanc­tions work. Then the chal­lenge will be get­ting him out of Ukraine — and that will be dan­ger­ous.”

Sep­ar­ately, 98 per­cent of the In­siders said Is­rael and the Palestini­ans would not strike a peace deal dur­ing Obama’s last term. A Middle East peace deal has been one of Obama’s top goals dur­ing his pres­id­ency, and it faces an­oth­er ma­jor obstacle after Is­rael called off U.S.-brokered peace talks upon the news that Hamas and Fa­tah would ink a unity agree­ment. 

“A peace deal has es­caped every U.S. pres­id­ent and there is no reas­on to think the parties will agree in the next few years,” one In­sider said. “An agree­ment will be struck by the parties when it is in their in­terests and with­in their timetable.” This “charade of ne­go­ti­ations,” an­oth­er In­sider quipped, has been go­ing on for roughly three dec­ades. “Both parties have more to gain from dis­agree­ment than from agree­ment.”

At this point, the cent­ral ques­tion in­volves see­ing Hamas as a po­ten­tial play­er on the Palestini­an side, one In­sider said. “The U.S. is largely in­cap­able of con­tem­plat­ing a deal that in­cludes Hamas. No Amer­ic­an of­fi­cial could sug­gest work­ing a deal with Hamas without cre­at­ing a firestorm of cri­ti­cism. In Is­rael, however, there are in­flu­en­tial and thought­ful play­ers — the old Mossad/Shin­bet crowd — who have long un­der­stood the need for com­ing to grips with Hamas. They’ll have to take the lead at this point. But a solu­tion dur­ing Obama’s second term is un­likely.”

1. Pres­id­ent Obama’s goal in levy­ing new sanc­tions against Rus­si­an of­fi­cials and com­pan­ies this week was to en­cour­age Pres­id­ent Vladi­mir Putin to dip­lo­mat­ic­ally re­solve the crisis in Ukraine. Will it work?

(64 votes)

  • No 87.5%
  • Yes 12.5%


“Putin has already been warned that more eco­nom­ic sanc­tions were com­ing and has dis­coun­ted them.”

“Sanc­tions are un­likely to ‘re­solve’ the crisis dip­lo­mat­ic­ally, but they may well help con­vince Rus­sia not to in­vade east­ern Ukraine.”

“This crisis has a few more moves be­fore it ends, and it could end badly, with a Rus­si­an takeover of east­ern Ukraine.”

“But the high cost of di­gest­ing Ukraine might.”

“As long as Europeans don’t levy com­par­able sanc­tions they won’t have any real im­pact.”

“They are a joke.”

“We are still only slap­ping Putin’s hand. We are still not mak­ing it hurt.”

“Sanc­tions will have to be in­creased, and the Europeans will have to be on board.”

“We have yet to al­ter his be­ha­vi­or, and now one of his min­is­ters is rais­ing the is­sue of ac­cess to the space sta­tion. We’ve got­ten ourselves in­to a po­s­i­tion where there is no reas­on­able frame­work of es­cal­a­tion or de-es­cal­a­tion that is ef­fect­ive.”

“It won’t change his cal­cu­lus in the short term, but it was still the right and ne­ces­sary thing to do. Longer term, Putin can’t buck the trend of the Rus­si­an eco­nomy, which is not a good one.”

“While it may not suc­ceed in lead­ing to an im­me­di­ate dip­lo­mat­ic solu­tion, it is a ne­ces­sary step to take as there are two things Putin re­spects — force and $$ — and not ne­ces­sar­ily in that or­der.”

“It might help only if we ex­hib­it great­er clar­ity in ex­actly what we ex­pect the Rus­si­ans to do.”

“There is an ex­tens­ive ana­lyt­ic­al lit­er­at­ure on when and why eco­nom­ic sanc­tions ac­tu­ally work. No one in the ad­min­is­tra­tion seems to have looked at it. The sanc­tions are mostly to give the il­lu­sion of ac­tion.”

“Putin is clearly not im­pressed with the will of the West to pre­vail in a con­flict over an area that is not of vi­tal in­terest to West­ern Europe or the United States. Sanc­tions take years to work — and Putin is smarter than to al­low the con­flict to drag on that long.”

“They are polit­ic­al eye­wash. The I-bankers and Re­altors of Lon­don will lobby against any ser­i­ous E.U. par­ti­cip­a­tion, and Merkel will not risk her 30 per­cent sup­ply of Rus­si­an gas. Enough with the un­ser­i­ous in­cre­ment­al­ism.”

“Sanc­tions or no, even­tu­ally there will be some polit­ic­al res­ol­u­tion. The ad­min — and the me­dia? — will say it was be­cause of the sanc­tions, but that seems very un­likely.”

“It’s go­ing to take a lot more pres­sure than this to change Putin’s cal­cu­lus.”

“Putin and the the Rus­si­an ol­ig­archy be­lieve they can ab­sorb fin­an­cial sanc­tions be­cause they do not be­lieve that the Europeans will risk break­ing deep eco­nom­ic ties.”

“Neither the Rus­si­an gov­ern­ment nor pro-Rus­si­an forces in East­ern Ukraine have changed be­ha­vi­or in re­sponse to sanc­tions. Even pan­ic-prone short-money in­vestors were un­fazed by the U.S. an­nounce­ment on Monday it would im­pose ad­di­tion­al sanc­tions, and the price of the Mo­scow Stock Ex­change ac­tu­ally went up.”



“Yes, at some point, as long as the NATO and E.U. al­li­ances re­main united and de­term­ined to en­sure the sanc­tions are real.”

“The goal is both pun­it­ive and aimed at be­ha­vi­or modi­fic­a­tion. Putin’s fail­ure of ima­gin­a­tion in not pock­et­ing the Geneva deal raises doubts wheth­er he knows where he’s headed.”

“But only if pres­sure in areas of Rus­si­an weak­ness are in­creased and Rus­si­ans liv­ing in Ukraine are giv­en equal treat­ment with oth­er Ukrain­i­ans.”

“Sort of. Sanc­tions are al­ways a mixed bag. They are ef­fect­ive if done over a long peri­od of time, but not an im­me­di­ate fix. Still, Putin has only one con­stitu­ency — his fel­low ol­ig­archs. If they are hurt­ing be­cause of him, he’s gone.”

“Yes, but only in con­junc­tion with stepped-up de­ploy­ment of U.S. mil­it­ary forces to NATO bor­der coun­tries and in­creased ac­tion by NATO mem­ber coun­tries’ na­tion­al se­cur­ity ser­vices work­ing bi­lat­er­ally with bor­der states to blunt Rus­si­an cov­ert ac­tion; with this firebreak, sanc­tions will have time to work, and it will take time.”

2. Is­rael called off U.S.-brokered peace talks after the news that Hamas and Fa­tah would ink a unity agree­ment. Will Is­rael and the Palestini­ans strike a peace deal dur­ing Obama’s last term?
(64 votes) 

  • No 98%
  • Yes 2% 

“This should be the rare 0 per­cent yes, 100 per­cent no an­swer. If it isn’t, you’ve got some real dream­ers among re­spond­ents.”

“The no­tion that now was the right mo­ment to ne­go­ti­ate peace between Is­rael and the Palestini­ans was al­ways fanci­ful. Now hope­fully the ad­min­is­tra­tion will turn to more im­me­di­ate prob­lems where U.S. en­gage­ment could make a pos­it­ive dif­fer­ence, such as Syr­ia.”

“Un­til the U.S. cuts off Is­rael’s $4 bil­lion an­nu­al wel­fare pay­ment and im­poses harsh Ukraine-style sanc­tions, they will con­tin­ue to ig­nore the peace pro­cess, U.N. res­ol­u­tions, sign­ing the nuc­le­ar and chem­ic­al weapons treat­ies, al­low­ing nuc­le­ar-arms in­spect­ors, etc, etc. Oth­er­wise it’s just the same old Ka­buki dance we’ve seen for nearly half a cen­tury of il­leg­al oc­cu­pa­tion.”

“Neither side is eager to make ma­jor con­ces­sions. Is­rael has no trust that Hamas would abide by any com­mit­ment, or that the al­li­ance between Hamas and Fa­tah would en­dure. Most Palestini­ans op­pose peace­mak­ing, egged on by rulers who whip up pop­u­lar emo­tions against Is­rael as a way to de­flect at­ten­tion from their cor­rup­tion and in­com­pet­ent gov­ernance.”

“Is­rael does not sin­cerely seek peace with the Palestini­ans ex­cept on terms that would make Palestine a Bantus­tan.”

“Last­ing peace must be an out­come of their col­lect­ive ac­tions in their self-in­terest. We can’t cre­ate that if they can’t.”

“No deal without Obama’s per­son­al com­mit­ment, and he is not ready or will­ing to com­mit — and neither side really trusts him.”

“Not un­less the ad­min­is­tra­tion shows great­er will­ing­ness than it has so far in ex­pend­ing polit­ic­al cap­it­al and show­ing the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment that it means busi­ness.”

“It’s the Middle East, after all.”

“No. Moreover, the prob­ab­il­ity that talks between the two parties could re­sume would in­crease if the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion de­cides to NOT reen­gage.”

“The polit­ic­al elites of both sides have a ves­ted in­terest in the con­tinu­ation of the con­flict. Both would be less sig­ni­fic­ant glob­ally if it ended.”

“Not a chance. Peace is cre­ated when one side wins and the oth­er re­lents, or when both sides feel vul­ner­able and agree to com­prom­ise. When both sides think they can pre­vail with oth­er strategies, then the con­flict will con­tin­ue. And this one will — for some time to come.”

“Is­rael has no in­cent­ive to.”

“Des­pite the Wash­ing­ton cot­tage in­dustry sur­round­ing it, the Palestini­an is­sue has be­come nearly ir­rel­ev­ant to the U.S., the Middle East, and the se­cur­ity of Is­rael. It would be nice if Mr. Kerry real­ized that and looked for his No­bel else­where, prefer­ably an area like Asia that has dir­ect and im­me­di­ate cor­rel­a­tion with U.S. na­tion­al in­terests.”

“No, this chi­mera keeps float­ing out there, and it is simply not hap­pen­ing in this ad­min­is­tra­tion or the next. The dif­fer­ences are too deep with­in the Palestini­ans and the Is­raeli lead­er­ships and cul­ture. The best we can ever hope for is an un­steady “steady” state of oc­ca­sion­al out­bursts of vi­ol­ence and re­pres­sion fol­lowed by a ‘sim­mer­ing peace.’ “

“Peace between Is­rael and Palestine is a chi­mera, and in­creased ten­sion and con­flict is the much more likely res­ult; more im­port­ant to Is­rael over the sum­mer will be the Syr­i­an con­flict’s knock-on ef­fect and Ir­a­ni­an nuc­le­ar ad­vances.”

“Now that the Palestini­an Au­thor­ity has aligned with Hamas, there is ab­so­lutely no chance of a peace deal.”

“Even Sec­ret­ary Kerry would now an­swer this ques­tion ‘no.’ “

“Nobody has ever lost money bet­ting against an Is­rael-Palestini­an agree­ment.”

“But it is al­ways pos­sible that pigs will fly ….”


“Is­rael also broke with talks over [Palestine Lib­er­a­tion Or­gan­iz­a­tion] join­ing 12 in­ter­na­tion­al or­gan­iz­a­tions while PLO broke over fail­ure to re­lease pris­on­ers and build­ing more set­tle­ments. Peace will only come when U.S. designs a fair frame­work and sticks with it.”

Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity In­siders Poll is a peri­od­ic sur­vey of more than 100 de­fense and for­eign policy ex­perts. They in­clude: Gor­don Adams, Charles Al­len, Mi­chael Al­len, Thad Al­len, Gra­ham Al­lis­on, James Bam­ford, Dav­id Barno, Milt Bearden, Peter Ber­gen, Samuel “Sandy” Ber­ger, Dav­id Ber­teau, Steph­en Biddle, Nancy Bird­sall, Mari­on Blakey, Kit Bond, Stu­art Bowen, Paula Broad­well, Mike Breen, Mark Brun­ner, Steven Bucci, Nich­olas Burns, Dan By­man, James Jay Cara­fano, Phil­lip Carter, Wendy Cham­ber­lin, Mi­chael Cher­toff, Frank Cil­luffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clem­ons, Joseph Collins, Wil­li­am Court­ney, Lorne Cran­er, Ro­ger Cres­sey, Gregory Dahl­berg, Robert Dan­in, Richard Dan­zig, Jan­ine Dav­id­son, Daniel Drezn­er, Mack­en­zie Eaglen, Paul Eaton, An­drew Ex­um, Wil­li­am Fal­lon, Eric Farns­worth, Jacques Gansler, Steph­en Gan­yard, Daniel Goure, Mark Green, Mike Green, Mark Gun­zinger, Todd Har­ris­on, John Hamre, Jim Harp­er, Marty Haus­er, Mi­chael Hay­den, Mi­chael Her­son, Pete Hoek­stra, Bruce Hoff­man, Linda Hud­son, Paul Hughes, Colin Kahl, Don­ald Ker­rick, Rachel Klein­feld, Lawrence Korb, Dav­id Kramer, An­drew Kre­pinev­ich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, Cedric Leighton, Mi­chael Leit­er, James Lind­say, Justin Lo­gan, Trent Lott, Peter Mansoor, Ron­ald Marks, Bri­an Mc­Caf­frey, Steven Metz, Frank­lin Miller, Mi­chael Mo­rell, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Shuja Nawaz, Kev­in Neal­er, Mi­chael Oates, Thomas Pick­er­ing, Paul Pil­lar, Larry Pri­or, Steph­en Rade­maker, Marc Rai­mondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Ro­ten­berg, Frank Rug­giero, Gary Sam­ore, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Steph­en Ses­t­an­ovich, Sarah Se­wall, Mat­thew Sher­man, Jen­nifer Sims, Su­z­anne Spauld­ing, James Stav­rid­is, Con­stan­ze Stelzen­müller, Ted Stroup, Guy Swan, Frances Town­send, Mick Train­or, Richard Wil­helm, Tamara Wittes, Dov Za­kheim, and Juan Za­r­ate.

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