Events in eastern Europe took a dramatic turn on Saturday as the Russian parliament cleared the way for President Vladimir Putin to use force in eastern Ukraine. Already forces allied with Moscow effectively control the Crimean peninsula, with armed gunmen patrolling its airports, parliament, and the newly installed local prime minister calling for a referendum on Crimean independence this March.
Speaking yesterday, President Barack Obama warned Russia “there will be a cost” for intervening militarily within Ukraine. U.S. military options are limited, but that doesn’t mean that America is unable to respond, however. Here are 5 options, among many, that the Obama administration can consider:
1. Suspend Russia’s membership in the G-8
Russia joining the Group of 7 in 1998, despite being the weakest of the group’s economies at the time, was considered a huge boost to the prestige a country still recovering after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia is also due to host the next meeting of the G-8 in Sochi, the site of the recently concluded Olympics, this June. Rather than the U.S. simply boycotting the meeting, the Obama administration could lead the charge along with the other members to suspend Russia’s membership in the group.
2. Place travel bans on Putin and his family
While multilateral travel bans are unlikely to come from the United Nations, thanks to Russia’s veto power on the Security Council, the U.S. can still enact unilateral travel sanctions on Putin and his family. While Putin would still be able to travel to New York for United Nations meetings, preventing the Russian president from entering U.S. territory, and marshaling European countries and other allies to do the same, would send a strong message to Putin that he is persona non-grata in the international community.
3. Enact trade sanctions against Russia
As recently as December, Russia was looking to boost trade with the United States — which already stands at about $40 billion annually — though remaining just shy of a free trade deal. Both Russia and the United States are members of the World Trade Organization, which brings with it certain obligations when it comes to tarrifs and trade embargoes. But insofar as those obligations allow, the U.S. can use reduced trade with Russia to show its displeasure.
4. Suspension of NATO cooperation and participation
After the collapse of the USSR, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization welcomed in several of the formerly Soviet states, including Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Russia has long seen this expansion as a threat, which is part of the reason Ukraine is not a NATO member state. To help assauge those fears, NATO began outreach to Russia in the late 1990s, including setting up a NATO-Russia Council to frequently meet and exchange concerns. In light of Putin’s move on Ukraine, the U.S. should move to have those meetings suspended and cooperation between NATO and Russia halted.
5. Accelerate missile defense programs in Russia’s near abroad
One of Russia’s top concerns when it comes to U.S. policy has been the instillation of a missile defense network in Eastern Europe. Washington has always insisted the network in Poland and the Czech Republic are to protect Europe from the threat of missiles from Iran, though Moscow has long been skeptical. The Obama administration has dialed back some of the program in the hopes of reducing Russian fears and enabling cooperation in other areas, for example on Iran’s nuclear program. Many of those choices could now be reversed with consideration to other American security interests.