Editorial: U.S. isolates Russia with sanctions

Editorial Board

By now, nearly every American has heard at least something about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. After that basic fact, though, it can be difficult to understand what exactly has been and likely will be happening.

With constant reassurances from those on the political right, such as Sen. Ted CruzR-Texas, and television personality Bill O’Reilly, that Russian President Vladimir Putin has “won” while handily outsmarting our own President, some might think that the situation in Crimea is already relegated to the history books.

Despite such claims, there is still much to be decided with regard to the international conflict instigated by Moscow. The United States and many western countries do not recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea as legitimate. This may seem to be of little use to those living under Russian military control, but by backing Ukraine’s claim to Crimea, the U.S. and its allies are giving an assurance that further sanctions will be imposed on Russia.

Admittedly, those sanctions began rather lightly. Before Russia officially voted to annex Crimea, the Obama administration announced the freezing of American assets held by eleven prominent Russian political figures, some of whom scoffed at the so-called punishment. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin joked on Twitter that the U.S. and European Union had added Stalin, vodka and the Kalashnikov assault rifle to the list of sanctioned individuals, underscoring their supposed ineffectiveness.

After Russia’s actions escalated, more serious actions were taken by the U.S. and others, including the Hague Declaration, which effectively removed Russia from the G-8, an important political group of eight — now seven — industrialized nations.

Additionally, there has been much talk of introducing measures to reduce Western Europe’s dependence on Russian gas and oil. Currently, Europe gets about a third of its imported energy from Russian sources. This means that although most countries in Western Europe disapprove of their invasion into Ukraine they would likely continue to have strong trade relations with Russia in order to keep their energy costs low.

This is an area where the U.S. could make significant economic impacts against Russia. There has already been talk across the political spectrum in the United States about increasing our liquid natural gas exports.

Even President Obama, at a summit last week in Brussels, said, “Once we have a trade agreement in place, export licenses for projects for liquefied natural gas destined to Europe would be much easier — something that’s obviously relevant in today’s geopolitical climate.”

Of course not everyone supports increased natural gas production. The Sierra Club, an environmental group based in the United States, claims, “Exporting liquified natural gas [LNG] to overseas markets is a dirty, dangerous practice that lets the industry make a killing at the expense of human health.”

There have certainly been problems with safely harvesting natural gas, most notably from hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking. These concerns have, in part, led many European countries to refrain from large-scale natural gas production, which is why they must seek imports.

Natural gas may just be a stepping stone from carbon-based fuels to more renewable, cleaner sources, but it is a step that the United States cannot afford to miss. We are not going to force Russia out of Ukraine at gunpoint; we must instead seek another way to isolate them internationally.

Opening a large-scale, transatlantic study into cleaner and safer methods for natural gas extraction would send a message to Russia that the United States and the European Union are serious about slowing the westward flow of gas and oil from Russia.

The measure wouldn’t immediately hurt the Russian economy, but Putin is not only thinking about right now. He has his country’s future to consider. We also might just find a better way to access the energy we have already begun to harvest here at home.