4 ways Team Trump can make Russia pay

4 ways Team Trump can make Russia pay
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With an economy the size of Italy, demographics that scream stagnation, and nothing more to offer the world than oil, it makes little sense that Russia occupies the place it does in our national discourse these days.

Let’s face it, the Moscow we seem to fear is not the old Soviet Union with a military ready to invade Western Europe or storm the Atlantic with submarines. And yet, Russia is very much the number one geopolitical threat in most Americans’ minds, eclipsing a rising China, a nuclear North Korea and rogue Iran.

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The reason for this is simple: Moscow made it that way — and it could be its very undoing if it’s not careful.

 

For a whole host of reasons, most of which stem from an unfounded fear that America seeks to undermine Russia’s government and impose regime change or steal away control of its “near-abroad” (the states of the former USSR), Moscow undertook what looks more and more like a half-baked scheme to intervene in our democratic process during the 2016 election. Not happy with being deemed our top national security threat, it seems to be trying the same tricks in this year’s election.

You would think by now Moscow would have learned that taking on the United States and its allies does not work out so well for Russia. Since Vladimir Putin and his band of thugs have decided to target the one thing that unites any people, no matter how polarized our politics may be — that is, the functioning of our democratic institutions — the stage is set for Washington to push back with a vengeance.

Here are four simple, yet effective, ways to make Russia know we mean business, in escalating order of severity:

Trump calls out Russia on Twitter: The strange thing about U.S. policy towards Russia is that much of it comes from the classic, conservative Republican playbook on how to win any geopolitical contest of wills against Moscow. Washington is arming Ukraine, increasing sanctions, bombing Syria (a traditional Russian ally) and massively increasing the U.S. defense budget — all very much signaling we are getting tough on Moscow. And yet, it all gets undermined when President TrumpDonald John TrumpLondon terror suspect’s children told authorities he complained about Trump: inquiry The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh Trump to nominate retiring lawmaker as head of trade agency MORE wants to woo Putin.

President Trump needs to do what he is keen on doing to everyone else: call Russia out on Twitter. When Russia gets aggressive, he should tell the world how he feels about it on social media. If Russia sends more arms to separatists in the Donbass, for example, let Putin know on Twitter that we will send more weapons to Ukraine if it continues. Everyone reacts to President Trump’s tweets, so this might be America’s best way to name and shame Russia.

Expose Putin for who he is: Russia loves to hack servers belonging to American politicians and give that information to the media. Well, two can play at that game. And considering there is ample evidence to suggest that Putin and his cronies have made billions of dollars by stealing whatever they can from the Russian people, it’s time for the world to know about it.

Our cyber and intelligence forces could list Putin’s crimes over the years — political killings, the theft of entire industries and the looting of the nation — to make sure his cult of personality at home takes a hit.

Guarantee NATO membership to Ukraine and Georgia: If Russia still wants punishment we can resort to more extreme measures. The next step seems obvious: expand NATO even more into Russia’s old sphere of influence, by bringing in Ukraine and Georgia.

Since both nations remain partially occupied by Russia, just the threat of NATO membership would serve as a wake-up call that Russia’s actions have gone too far, and it would show our determination to do real damage to Russia’s interests.

Kick Russia out of Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT): If, after all of that, Moscow continues to attack our democratic intuitions, we have one more option: deny Russia the resources to do so. To do that we must give their economy a SWIFT kick where it hurts.

If you really wanted to be extreme, then go after all of Russia's financial institutions and try to shut down their ability to conduct business,” explains Scott MacDonald, chief economist at Smith’s Research & Gradings. “Excluding Russia from SWIFT would be a major blow to the running of the Russian economy, as it would disrupt international money transfers between Russian banks and their customers. The millions of routine transactions conducted by SWIFT would be like lobbing a hand grenade into the engine room of a large ship — such a blow probably won't sink the ship, but it would most likely leave it badly adrift and on fire.”

Since Russia, in the past, has said such an action would be the equivalent of declaring war, maybe just the threat of such action might be enough to get Moscow’s attention and stop its aggression.

Harry J. Kazianis (@grecianformula) is director of Defense Studies at the Center for the National Interest, founded in 1994 by President Richard M. Nixon, and executive editor of its publishing arm, The National Interest. He previously worked on the foreign policy team of the 2016 Ted Cruz presidential campaign and as foreign policy communications manager at the Heritage Foundation, editor-in-chief of The Diplomat, and as a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The views voiced in this article are his own.