NPR’s Steve Inskeep reported on his interview with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on today’s Morning Edition:
[Blinken] insisted that U.S. sanctions against Russia are “not designed to be permanent,” and that they could “go away” if Russia should change its behavior. But he said any Russian pullback would have to be, “in effect, irreversible,” so that “this can't happen again, that Russia won’t pick up and do exactly what it’s doing in a year or two years or three years.”
Blinken made it clear, however, that he expects Russia neither to halt its aggression nor to offer diplomatic concessions any time soon.
It’s hard to know whether to be encouraged by Blinken’s words. On the one hand, the suggestion that sanctions could “go away” if Russia changes its behavior sounds like we might be ready to let Russia off easy. On the other hand, the demand that Russia, from this time forward, behave like a responsible, civilized state is unlikely to be pledged and, if promised, would be impossible to enforce. Forever is, after all, a long, long time. One has to think that Blinken’s demand is ironically akin to Putin’s insistence that Ukraine never seek NATO membership.
What is it the world—much of it anyway—needs here? First, of course, the aggression must stop. After that, Ukraine must be made whole. (It has been suggested that, as of now, this will cost half a trillion dollars, though even that will not repair the human carnage.) Secretary Blinken is right to demand that Russia never again attacks its neighbors. We must be real here, however. That can never be guaranteed as long as Putin is in power, if then.
Sanctions must not be lifted before the fighting stops, Russia takes responsibility for reconstructing the country it has ravaged, and Putin is no longer in power. Sanctions were imposed to change Putin’s behavior, but they must be kept in place to punish Russia for its unspeakable behavior. Putin’s stepping down in favor of one of his cronies will not be enough. Further, Putin must be tried for war crimes, which he has assuredly committed. If these requirements are met, sanctions can be gradually lifted.
I fear this conflict may outlast the Biden presidency. If so, I worry that a Republican president, whether or not it is Donald Trump, will let Russia off the hook. I sincerely hope that our current policy, or something very much like it, will remain resolutely bipartisan. I am not totally sanguine about that.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed Congress today via video. As expected, he asked for additional war materiel. His strongest emotional appeal, however, came in the form of a brief video illustrating, in painful-to-watch graphics, the damage being done by Russia to the cities and people of Ukraine. I hope that members of Congress were asking themselves how they would feel if what there seeing happened in their own back yards—to New York or to Chicago or to Pheonix or to Duluth.
Zelenskyy addressed Biden with these words: “Being the leader of the world means being the leader of peace.” I hope our president was listening.