Putin: How the West should respond
It’s time “to wipe the smirk off Putin’s face,” said the New York Post in an editorial. While Russia’s autocratic president was chest-thumping over his rigged election “victory” this week, former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were clinging to life in a British hospital, victims of a chemical-weapon attack that Vladimir Putin almost certainly ordered. Putin has suffered no serious consequences for his annexation of Crimea, his invasion of Ukraine, or his bombing of Syrian civilians, but the brazen use of the Russian-made nerve gas Novichok on British soil seems to have finally roused Western nations out of their passivity. As a first step, Britain this week expelled 23 Russian diplomats, while the Trump White House imposed fresh sanctions on 24 Russian firms and individuals already accused of interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Putin “has been playing a weak hand well” in recent years, said David Ignatius in The Washington Post. But with the Skripal attack, he has gone “too far.” The U.S. should put together a “new coalition of the willing”—including our NATO and Middle Eastern allies—to answer his reckless provocations with punishment far more painful than limited sanctions and diplomatic wrist slaps.
But whose side is President Trump on? said Michael Crowley in Politico.com. There was a “bizarre disconnect” between the condemnations of Russia coming out of the Trump administration last week and the mild response of Trump himself. The president opined that the Skripal attack was “a very sad situation” and said it “looks like the Russians were behind it,” but expressed no outrage. Over and over again, Trump avoids saying anything negative about Putin—no matter what the Russian strongman does. “It’s the greatest mystery in American politics: What, exactly, explains Donald Trump’s love affair with Moscow?” That question deepened this week when Trump called Putin following the Russian election, said Carol Leonnig in The Washington Post. Trump didn’t even mention the chemical attack in the chummy call—and actually congratulated the Russian autocrat on winning his phony election, despite a specific, written warning from his national security advisers: “DO NOT CONGRATULATE.”
Trump is shameless, but other Western leaders have been “just as pusillanimous,” said Max Boot, also in The Washington Post. The Skripal hit, which also sent three dozen bystanders to the hospital, was a chemical-weapon attack by Russia on a NATO member-state. Sending a few diplomats home won’t do. No one would recommend a military response, but invoking the NATO common-defense clause would certainly get Putin’s attention. So would ejecting Russia from the international banking system, and freezing the billions he and his oligarch pals have stashed in Western banks and real estate. The U.S. and its allies should hit Putin and his cronies “where it counts.”
Or we could just expose Putin “as the kleptocrat he is,” said WashingtonExaminer.com. Despite his authoritarian control of Russia, he’s deeply insecure and fears a popular uprising. That’s why he jails and/or kills journalists, activists, and political opponents “who shine a light” on his corruption. Our strongest move would be to help Russian journalists and dissidents get—and publicize—the embarrassing details of how Putin has looted Russia’s resources for his own enrichment. To contain this international gangster, said Walter Russell Mead in The Wall Street Journal, we need to take a page out of The Godfather. “What’s needed is a horse’s head in somebody’s bed.” Only when Vlad feels real fear will he stop treating the West with such arrogant disdain. ■