What would happen if Russia invaded Malaysia?

EU sanctions: It must really hurt

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If you want to prevent Russia's leadership in Brussels from attacking Ukraine, for example, those responsible must be made clear beforehand what serious consequences this will have for them, demands Steven Pifer in his guest post. Pifer was US Ambassador to Ukraine and is a Fellow of the Robert Bosch Academy.

The mistreatment of the imprisoned Russian political activist Alexej Navalny and the alarming build-up of Russian military power around Ukraine have been causing great concern in the West for several weeks. Over the past seven years, Europe and the United States have reacted to the Kremlin's outrageous misconduct with sanctions on many occasions - but in almost all cases only in retrospect. Instead of just punishing Russia for injustices that have already been committed, a smarter approach would use sanctions as a deterrent. Germany, which has played a leading role in shaping the European Union's sanctions policy, should lead EU members to policies that use sanctions to deter the Kremlin - before he deals.

In 2014, Russia illegally occupied Crimea by military force and provoked a conflict in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. Europe responded with sanctions, particularly after a Russian-supplied missile shot down a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777. They hit individuals with visa denial and asset freezes and targeted specific sectors of the Russian economy. The EU members have imposed further sanctions on Russia, for example those responsible for the arrest and persecution of Alexei Navalny. The US government has imposed similar sanctions.

Unfortunately, the steps taken by the West did not achieve their goals. Russia continues to occupy Crimea and has not withdrawn its military forces and proxies from the Donbas. Nawalny’s mistreatment also continues.

Deterrence is a simple concept

While the sanctions have not forced Russia to reverse its actions in Ukraine, the prospect of tougher action in the event of further aggression may have influenced the Kremlin's calculations. For example, Russian auxiliaries did not attack Mariupol in 2015, as many feared at the time. The expectation of future sanctions may have helped deter Moscow.

Recently, the behavior of Russia has provoked an outcry on two occasions. First, Alexei Navalny returned to Moscow in January after spending five months recovering in Germany after being poisoned in Russia. He was promptly arrested in Russia and then imprisoned. He reported serious health problems and is now in a prison hospital. His personal doctor fears for his life.

Second, in April we saw a threatening Russian armament near Ukraine. The Vice President of the European Commission, Josep Borrell, put the total number of Russian troops at 100,000. The U.S. Department of Defense said the numbers continue to grow, dwarfing 2014 levels when the Russian military started the conflict against Ukraine - a conflict that cost more than 13,000 lives. The build-up of troops could be mere saber rattling to see how the Kiev government and the West react. But it also has a strong effect as the preparation for an armed invasion.

Instead of imposing sanctions after Moscow lets Navalny die or the Russian army invades Ukraine, Germany and the European Union should now use sanctions to deter Moscow from these actions. Deterrence is a simple concept. It requires convincing someone that the potential cost of the action being considered outweighs the hoped-for benefits.