We should go for Putin’s weak point – the economy

“Ferocious” fighting for the key transport hub of Debaltseve in Ukraine raged last week – even though midnight the previous Sunday marked the start of a “nominal ceasefire” between the Ukrainian troops and the Russian-backed separatist forces, says Roland Oliphant in The Daily Telegraph.

In the wake of the Minsk agreement, separatist leaders were “apparently unwilling to give up” the town when they were so close to victory, and so claimed the ceasefire did not apply to them, while a Ukrainian military spokesman told reporters that under the terms of the agreement, “Debaltseve is ours”.

By Wednesday, however, a “planned and organised” departure of Ukrainian forces from the town was underway, announced by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who said the world had now seen “the true face” of the “bandits” supported by Russia.

The latest Minsk agreement will merely “legitimise the Kremlin’s gains on the ground thus far”, says David Patrikarakos in The Wall Street Journal. When Moscow is ready for more, the rebels will “drive their Russian-supplied tanks” straight through it, “as they did with the last”.

The only practical solution is to “drastically increase the price the Kremlin will pay for its policy”. That means arming Ukraine properly. “It is in all our interests.” Vladimir Putin’s aim is to keep secessionist feeling and violence simmering in eastern Ukraine, hindering the country’s democratic development and preventing it from joining the EU or Nato. Should he succeed, the Baltic states fear he could “turn his attention to the north”.

There is no point in arming Ukraine, says Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times. As German leader Angela Merkel has observed, “no amount of weaponry that the West could plausibly supply” will tip the military balance in its favour. Rather than engage Moscow “where is it relatively strong”, we should go for Russia’s weak point: the economy.

Much of Putin’s appeal lies in his promise of higher living standards. “Privation and isolation are less attractive” ideas. The effect of sanctions, along with a falling oil price and slumping rouble is already causing food shortages.

Further sanctions should be targeted primarily at the elite – no one wants ordinary Russians to suffer – but this is the way to pressurise Putin. “If ever there was a case for the application of US President Barack Obama’s doctrine of ‘strategic patience’, this is it.”

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