Unfortunately, the Ukraine Crisis did not end with 2014. New outbreaks of fighting, bombings, a buildup of Russian forces along the Ukraine-Russian broader, and a renewed Russian military presence in Ukraine, among other signs, suggest the conflict is about to escalate once again. In accordance, there is a need to respond to increased Russian aggression in order to discourage such behavior, but the West is growing weary of the conflict.
Despite Putin’s failure to respond to his punishments in a rational manner, sanctions against Russia are proving to be quite punitive to the Russian economy; however, collapsing oil prices are having a far greater impact on Russia’s economic health. With economic failure comes political dissent and dramatic shifts in policies. While Western powers hoped sanctions would force Putin to change his policies, the overall ills of the Russian economy may well eventually result in the departure of Putin and many of his cronies.
More often than not, authoritarian leaders use government to serve their interests at the expense of their Peoples. Since maintaining their power at almost any cost is the top priority of an authoritarian regime, authoritarians try to engineer their government and their broader society, so they cannot function without them. While Libya under Muammar Gaddafi represents a textbook example, Vladimir Putin has used his consolidation of power to make his ouster extremely damaging to Russia.
As such, Eastern Europeans in particular should be concerned that increased pressure on the Russian economy will lead to a unstable Russia. Where oil prices falling below $50 a barrel is awesome news for average consumers, oil dependent countries like Russia experience that steep discount as an economic slowdown and national budget deficit. If the Russian economy falls into deep economic depression that lingers for years to decades, the economic ripple effects for Europe will be very significant.
Perhaps more importantly, the Putin government has spent the last year responding to increased international pressure with increased aggression. A desperate Putin with little more to lose may feel compelled to broaden his militant intrusion against Ukraine into other European countries. In other words, Putin might choose to preserve his power and spread chaos around the world so Westerners can suffer alongside Russians.
That said, countries like Germany might fear increased sanctions will destabilize Russia, but the reality is that the only new sanctions that are likely to have a significant impact are those targeting specific individuals and businesses. After all, the fate of the Russian economy has already been sealed by its overreliance on oil, especially when the Putin government chooses to engage in increased military spending.
Where reversing sanctions could only help soften Russia’s economic woes, political capitulation on behalf of Western leaders will certainly reward Putin for his patience. In turn, Putin will expand his mistreat of Ukraine to more countries once Russia is back on its feet. Consequently, Western leaders must stay the course when it comes to the resolving the Ukraine Crisis in a satisfactory manner.
The unfortunate reality is that Russia has always had the power to decide how the Ukraine Crisis would end. If Putin decides to unwind his damaging policies and his grip on power, the Russian People and the rest of the world will be better off. If Putin is forced out of government, Russia will likely suffer from political instability and the world will have to deal with that. If Putin chooses conflict over reason, the world needs to be prepared for that, because appeasing Vladimir Putin will not determine what he does.
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