Michael McFaul, Obama's recently departed ambassador to Russia, suggests that Putin's soft underbelly may be the business interests that have close economic ties with the world, especially Europe. Russia's superwealthy hide so much money in European banks, they almost brought down the country of Cyprus.
If Moscow doesn't back down, "Obama should make clear that its aggression will comprehensively damage all aspects of Russia's relations with the United States," says The Washington Post
in an editorial. "Obama should make clear that he will no longer shrink from applying sanctions to Russian leaders and businesses complicit in aggression or human rights violations." Congress is already considering legislation to that effect. The Post
's editors say Obama needn't wait:
An expanded list of Russian officials subject to visa denials and asset freezes that was drawn up by the State Department late last year should be immediately approved by the White House. Russian officials in the chain of command of the Ukraine invasion, as well as Russian companies and banks operating in Crimea, should be the next targets of financial sanctions.
The most powerful nonmilitary tool the United States possesses is exclusion from its banking system. Mr. Obama should make clear that if Russia does not retreat from Ukraine, it will expose itself to this sanction, which could sink its financial system. Russia's economy, unlike that of the Soviet Union, is heavily dependent on Western trade and investment. It must be made clear to the Kremlin that the Ukraine invasion will put that at risk. [Washington Post
If Putin's power really does lie not only in a firm grip on the legislature, media, and various other sources of power, but also a system of oligarchic patronage, the U.S. and Europe have the tools to erode the support of the oligarchs. If a few Moscow-favored businessmen make trouble, Putin can just send them to jail (see: Khodorkovsky, Mikhail
) or (allegedly) poison them
. But what if a critical mass of Russia's wealthy elite saw their offshore wealth and travel privileges threatened?
No man is an island. That includes Vladimir Putin.