by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Too many Western commentators are inclined to treat Putin with a kind of admiring hostility, denouncing him as a lawless despot while grudgingly admitting that the West has no effective way of responding to his ruthless tactics in Ukraine, in the Middle East, in legally sanctioning Russian state murders abroad. It is not the case, of course, that the West has no means of responding to these things. We could selectively murder FSB agents in retaliation for their murders in Western countries, for instance, or quietly transfer large sums of money to the bank accounts of jihadists operating in Russia’s northern Caucasus. We don’t do such things because we want to uphold the international rules that make us all safer in the long run, because we hope to draw Russia back into working within those rules, and because we don’t feel sufficiently threatened as yet.
That prudence should not be mistaken for weakness, however. In early February, U.S. forces in Syria inflicted heavy losses, an estimated 200 dead, on Russian combatants who had attacked a U.S. force and its Kurdish allies. The U.S. has downplayed this incident but not denied it, and the Russians have likewise not complained. Whatever was intended by either side, the U.S. demonstrated that it would respond with deadly force if it needed to do so.
That said, most responses to Russian lawlessness will naturally be “peaceful” and/or economic unless Putin becomes ever more reckless.