Removing time from Putin’s side
Russian President Vladimir Putin thinks time is on his side. And, as of now, he’s right. He can, as he’s doing, pull back his troops and pulverize Ukraine from the air — for weeks, months or years until the country’s brave people all exit to Poland or other receptive nations. Once this ethnic cleansing has done its job, Putin can resettle the country with Russians. Having done that, he’ll find another part of “Mother Russia” to force into his embrace.
NATO appears to be running out of sanctions to pressure Putin to stop his criminal war. But NATO has more cards to play. For starters, Germany and other NATO members can stop importing oil and gas from Russia and all other products from Russia (the U.S. has effectively already done so). But they can do so based on a time schedule.
For example, every week Russian troops remain in Ukraine, Russian energy imports could be cut by 25 percent. And for each week the genocidal bombardment continues, Germany could dismantle a quarter of Nord Stream 2 — the newly built second gas pipeline that can deliver gas directly from Russia to Germany. I’m talking about the part of the pipeline that lies within Germany’s economic zone. Denmark, Sweden and Finland could follow sequentially after Germany. Nord Stream 2 also runs through their economic zones.
For its part, Ukraine could announce a schedule that increasingly slows the flow of gas through its Russian-gas pipeline. Every child killed by Russian bombs or missiles would lead to another turn of the dial. As for the existing sanctions, the West can make clear that the longer the genocide and de-facto ethnic cleansing continues, the longer the West will wait to remove economic sanctions once a peace settlement is achieved.
What about the U.S.? It can immediately announce the permanent stationing of U.S. armies in the Baltics, Poland, Romania and Hungary whose numbers will rise with each week Russia continues its rain of death. A similar schedule could be announced for the deployment of anti-missile systems, tanks, aircraft and other military equipment to those countries. Putin says he fears NATO. Let him understand that the longer he stays in Ukraine, the larger will be the NATO presence that’s directly on his doorsteps.
President Biden should also make clear that his patience with the genocide has a time limit, after which the U.S. and its NATO allies will impose a no-fly zone, including no flying of missiles, across all of Ukraine.
Most important, Biden needs to give Putin and his generals and Putin’s other close associates no time whatsoever to personally survive any use of nuclear or other unconventional weapons. Putin, but more important, his top brass, must understand that a U.S. “in kind” response would include their extremely timely departure. This is likely the only credible threat that can prevent Putin and co. from using weapons of mass destruction.
All this and more will change the tables — the timetables. Instead of time being on Putin’s side, time will become his enemy.
Laurence Kotlikoff is professor of economics at Boston University and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc.
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