Will sanctions deter Vladimir Putin?

It had been all of five hours since the U.S. announced it was levying new sanctions against 11 Russians and Ukrainians accused of helping to violate Ukraine's territorial integrity when Russian President Vladimir Putin was ready to respond.

He signed an order declaring Crimea a sovereign state, validating the results of a Sunday referendum in the peninsula that the U.S. has called an unequivocal violation of international law. Putin is also reportedly considering sanctions of his own against U.S. senators who have been critical of Russia.

He wasn't alone in his response to the White House's threat. One of the sanctioned Russians, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, openly mocked the president on his Twitter account, writing, "Comrade @BarackObama, what should do those who have neither accounts nor property abroad? Or U didn't think about it?)," among other things.

Monday's sanctions were a first step, experts say, and it's already clear they've done absolutely nothing to convince Putin to back down or even seek a diplomatic resolution. The reasons are twofold: they don't strike that close to Putin, but they also don't do much to harm the individuals who are targets.

"These sanctions seem to be aimed at people who have played a visible role but don't seem to be the actual decision makers on the Russian side," said Eugene Rumer, the director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment For International's Peace. Formerly the national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia at the U.S. National Intelligence Council, Rumer said that some of the advisers who appear to the public and the west are "just conduits for the decisions made in the inner circle."

They also won't have much of an economic effect. The sanctions will block U.S. accounts for the seven Russians and four Ukrainians who were named in the executive order, but they didn't necessarily have any assets here that will be subject to the order.

"These guys, I presume, aren't stupid enough to have accounts in the United States. And you can't get a visa to go to Las Vegas and play the games. So at the end of the day, they can live with these sanctions," said former ambassador James Jeffrey, who is now at the Washington Institute. "This will have no economic significance, per se, on Russia, nor will it have any impact whatsoever on what Putin has done."

CBS News National Security Analyst Juan Zarate explains that the sanctions are intended as the first U.S. step - one that will demonstrate its willingness to go after private citizens. Sanctions can be expanded over time to hunt down state assets hidden way by the oligarchy, or to hit those with ties to organized crime, or those who do business with Syria, Iran, and North Korea.

"If you take the financial gloves off you could begin to hurt the Russians in a fairly dramatic way," he said. But that takes political will, it takes time, and it will be a process of escalation."

Putin will up the ante Tuesday in a speech where he is expected to call for Russia to formally annex Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that experts largely agree is probably gone from Ukraine forever. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney refused to rule out the possibility of sanctions against Putin himself when he briefed reporters Monday, although even that is a move that would likely have almost no effect on the crisis at hand.

Rumer questioned how the U.S. would be able to negotiate with Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the two most high-profile figures in the Ukraine crisis if they were levying sanctions against the pair. Jeffrey noted that Putin would still be able to travel to the U.N., even if a U.S. travel ban kept him out of the country.

Zarate added: "That in some ways would be an economic nuclear weapon that frankly would probably have more impact on the diplomacy and the geopolitics than it would on Russia's financial standing."

"I think Russia's financial isolation can be handled in a much more nuanced and frankly aggressive way by going after some of the oligarchs, by isolating some of the Russian banks, and by focusing on some of the illicit activity that the Russians are engaged in whether its ties to organized crime or supplying Assad and Damascus with weapons and chemicals."

Not everyone is as optimistic that even increased sanctions will change Putin's behavior. Rumer, for instance, believes that Putin will be undeterred by almost anything because he is acting so decisively. And with each passing day, Crimea drifts closer and closer to Russian hands, meaning the U.S. will be seeking a highly unlikely about-face from Russia on its recent actions if it looks for Russia to invalidate the results of the Crimean referendum and withdraw its troops to just its port in Sevastopol.

There certainly are few options to get Putin to back down within the next few days before it seeks to annex Crimea. One idea popular among Republican leaders is an expansion of U.S. natural gas exports to reduce Europe's dependence on Russian oil and gas, but even that could take years to be effective because of the infrastructure that would have to be built in parts of Eastern Europe.

For the U.S. to seek to counter Russia's energy prowess in the region would be a "could be a very important signal to the Russians that they are playing a losing hand in the long term, that what they are doing is forcing the rest of the world to not only isolate Russia in the short term but to think about workarounds around Russia's economy," Zarate said.

"I see the discussion around natural gas replacement as an important one, not because its going to solve the problem this week or this month but because it sends a very clear signal to Russia that they are on the losing side of a long game."

Jeffrey added that it has long-term psychological importance because such a move would say to the Russians, "your behavior is going to drive you into a position where you will be hurt, where you are most vulnerable."

Russia's economy is heavily dependent on oil and gas exports, which account for more than 50 percent of revenues in its federal budget, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

But still, that's a long-term impact, and one that won't stop Crimea from permanently falling into Russian hands.

"If the goal is to help Ukraine well that's not going to have any immediate impact and until more such terminals really get built by the Europeans to the tune of tens of billions of dollars and it will take years and years to do that," Rumer said. "This well-intentioned move is not going to have the desired effect."

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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