For several weeks western governments have been largely impotent in their responses to the Russian recapture of the Crimean peninsula, formerly a part of Ukraine. That is, the public, right-wing politicians and many in the press view the responses as impotent.
I, however, view western governments as having taken appropriate steps given the global nature of this issue. In an interconnected and interdependent world, responses must be very measured.
U.S. Sen. John McCain, a former Republican presidential candidate, has been among the many who have assailed President Barack Obama and other western leaders for not being "man enough" to stare down Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Hillary Clinton went so far as to compare Putin to Hitler. While that might be a valid comparison in the Sudetenland perspective, it certainly doesn't help reduce tensions or move towards a meaningful resolution of this crisis.
It is important to recall that Putin, a former KGB agent, was raised during the days of the former Soviet Union. The USSR was a world power in terms of geography, space exploration and weaponry, but Third World in most every other way. The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union would not be a source of pride for Putin.
Moreover, the ongoing struggles at the edges of his empire — Kyiv, Georgia and certainly Chechnya — underscore the fact that Russian power may no longer be as threatening as Putin once thought.
He invaded Crimea, a largely Russian-speaking area, and recaptured key military and naval bases.
In doing so, he has put Ukraine and all of Europe on watch.
Other than talk, what can the western opposers do in response?
Well, if one listens to the right-wingers among us, I suppose the answer to everything is to put boots on the ground. But whose boots, and on what ground? No serious person would advocate Canadian or American soldiers be sent to back up the Ukrainian forces.
President Obama in a speech Wednesday committed 16 fighter jets to Poland for its defence and a smaller number to Lithuania. These are symbolic measures and would give Putin little reason to think otherwise.
Quite frankly, of all of the people who have skin in this game, it appears we may have the very least. In fact, given Canada’s resource base and our economic dependence on selling oil and gas, a war might be good for Canadian energy companies. This is, of course, a reckless strategy.
So if we’re not prepared to fight, and I don’t believe we should be, then what options do we have left?
In an interconnected world and global economy, the reality is we have few recourses that wouldn’t hurt us almost as much as it would hurt Putin and friends.
The obvious recourse would be for western European nations to stop purchasing Russian energy, thus devastating the Russian economy while doing similar damage to those boycotting the energy giant. This is part of the price of extracting a pound of flesh using sanctions. It hurts all involved.
However, in the oft-murky world of energy trading, my suspicions are that Russian oil and gas would find a way to world markets while consumers would be punished with higher prices for Middle East energy. This is not a strategy without pitfalls.
Western powers could also employ a series of punishing measures including seizing financial and real estate assets of the Russian oligarchs.
These businessmen, all closely linked to Putin, have garnered billions of dollars through their connections to the Russian state. I wonder aloud if Putin himself may have also secreted away a billion or two in Switzerland, Liechtenstein, the Caymans, or in real estate markets like New York, Miami, London or Los Angeles. My bet would be yes.
Finally, the western powers could take a bold stance by slashing economic ties to Russia. However, this move, like every other strategy, has to take into account the impact it would have on its originators. For example, Brandon’s own Behlen Industries, as reported in the Sun last June, is building a massive steel structure in Krasnoyarsk, Russia.
If Canada were to deal harshly with Putin, would this and other projects be cancelled? If so, what price are we prepared to accept to stop Putin’s aggressive adventurism?
As one can see, this is an incredibly complicated matter with no quick fixes.
As someone who prefers a reasoned approach to resolve issues, I believe the long-term strategy of continuing to build on North American energy independence and building the Keystone Pipeline, while also reducing our energy footprint through improved mileage and other green strategies may be the best way to keep Putin in line, while also sending along an important message to our friends and foes globally.
That is, we are prepared to sacrifice in the short term as long as it suits our goals of wealth and stability in the long term.
» Kerry Auriat is a lifelong Brandon resident and a partner in a local brokerage firm.