Limited sanctions won't stop Putin in Ukraine: It's time to step up the pressure on Russia

If what Putin’s army is doing to Ukraine right this minute isn’t terror, what is it?

By Lucian K. Truscott IV


Published February 26, 2022 8:00AM (EST)

Russia's President Vladimir Putin is seen during a meeting with members of Russian business community in the Moscow Kremlin. (Alexei Nikolsky\TASS via Getty Images)
Russia's President Vladimir Putin is seen during a meeting with members of Russian business community in the Moscow Kremlin. (Alexei Nikolsky\TASS via Getty Images)

By fumbling and bumbling and hesitating and stalling and arguing and fiddling and politicking and treating the world like everything was peachy keen, Europe and the U.S. and the NATO alliance missed its chance to include Ukraine as a member, and now they are all alone against the third or fourth biggest military in the world.   

Numerous comparisons have been made by historians and experts between Putin's invasion of Ukraine and Hitler's taking of the Sudetenland in 1938. Hitler claimed repeatedly that ethnic Germans in the eastern part of Czechoslovakia were being mistreated and attacked and that the region had to be taken over "to protect Germany."  "It is the last territorial claim which I have to make in Europe," he said in September of 1938. The Sudetenland was ceded to Germany less than a month later.

Putin claimed on Monday that "Ukraine actually never had stable traditions of real statehood. … It is an inalienable part of our own history, culture and spiritual space."  He went on raving that Russian speaking people in Eastern Ukraine were being subjected to "genocide…the killing of civilians … the abuse of people, including children, women and the elderly, continues unabated," he said. "There is no end in sight." He made the case that the Russian speaking people of Donetsk and Luhansk aren't really Ukrainian, they're Russian and they want to be part of Russia.

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Hitler had ambitions to take over all of Europe. Within a year, he had taken Poland, and the rest, as they say, is history.  Putin has made clear his view that the breakup of the Soviet Union was "the greatest geo-political tragedy of the 20th Century."  He hasn't yet said he wants to restore the Soviet empire, but tell that to the Ukrainian people under bombardment in Kharkiv, the families fleeing west from Kyiv, and tell it to the citizens of the Baltics and Poland who are watching the destruction of Ukraine and its sovereignty with great trepidation that they will be next.    

Putin is holding Ukraine hostage and daring the West to intervene. He's looking Europe in the eye and saying, let's play chicken. Just how crazy do you think I am? 

Russia has seized most airports in Ukraine, civilian and military — and all of them in the eastern and central regions — and achieved air superiority over the entire country, completely cutting off the air-bridge by which the West could have supplied the Ukraine military with more weapons, ammunition, helmets, combat vests, all the equipment necessary to fight the Russian invaders. What Ukraine has right now is what they will have. If and when they shoot off all their Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, that's it. When they fire their last 105mm and 155 mm artillery rounds, that's it.

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Ukraine is now in the same place Afghanistan was when Russia invaded in 1979. Any and all military resupplies the Ukrainian military or resistance receives will have to be smuggled across borders from the West. Whether Poland, Hungary and Slovakia will allow this remains to be seen. I'm sure those countries are calculating that if they allow their territory to be used as a refuge for the Ukrainian military and resistance fighters, it will piss Putin off, and they will be next.

The worst situation we could have imagined is here. Ukraine is fighting Russia all by itself. Putin is blackmailing the West by rattling his nuclear weapons with his statement that "interference" by outsiders will "lead you to such consequences as you have never before experienced in your history." By listening to his lies that he had "no intention to invade Ukraine" and just sitting back, the West has allowed Putin to gain the advantage and put himself in the position where he can do whatever he wants in Ukraine while the world must stand back and watch it happen on CNN.

The sanctions Biden announced at a press conference on Thursday won't do any more to change Putin's behavior than the sanctions we and the rest of the West imposed after he seized Crimea and moved his troops into Eastern Ukraine in 2014. The sanctions cover more banks and more oligarchs but were, in a word, disappointing. Biden said his new sanctions will "limit Russia's ability to do business in dollars, euros, pounds and yen to be part of the global economy." That's all well and good, but why just "limit" the banks? Why not totally and completely ban them from operation in the world's banking system? It was announced on Friday that the EU has agreed to freeze the assets of Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and the U.S. Treasury followed close on their heels by doing the same thing.

But Biden and NATO and the rest of the civilized shouldn't stop there. We should lock Russia down within its borders. Biden and the West must immediately shut down all landings by Russian aircraft, commercial passenger flights, cargo and otherwise. Russia has seized Ukraine's airports. Close airports everywhere in the West to flights out of Russia. The FAA announced a "no fly" zone over Ukraine and Belarus and the airspace 160 miles into Russia. Why limit our flights over their territory? Why not limit their flights over ours? Why not turn the world into a no-fly zone for all Russian aircraft?  Shut down the ability of Russian aircraft to take off by refusing them places to land. 

Ban visas to every Russian citizen, not just the billionaires "close to Putin," as the saying goes. (We tried that. It doesn't work.) Declare Russia a terrorist state and issue a "travel ban" to and from Russia. If what Putin's army is doing to Ukraine right this minute isn't terror, what is it? I've already seen footage of Ukrainian office buildings and apartments with their fronts blown off, streets filled with rubble, bridges damaged by airstrikes. What is the difference between buildings brought down by a "terrorist bomb" or an airplane flown by terrorists and what's being done at this very minute by the Russian military? 

Biden and Western nations must not allow movement of people, goods, services, money or anything else from Russia to the rest of the world. They must order the seizure of the assets of Russians in the West — all of their assets: apartments, condos, beachfront properties, office buildings, bank offices. Seize all their money and other paper investments. This must not only apply to "oligarchs." There are plenty of Russians who own property in New York, Miami, London, Paris, Monaco and elsewhere. Take what they own outside of Russia from them — not just the billionaires. 

Bar imports of any goods from Russia. Bar all exports to Russia of any technology, right down to the hammer and the common nail. Include in the ban "luxury" goods such as European and American automobiles. Bar the export of televisions, laptops, cellphones, everything Russian citizens have gotten used to owning and using. Shut down Russian access to social media sites like YouTube and Instagram and Facebook and to streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu and Apple TV and Amazon Prime Video. Turn Moscow and the rest of the country into a social media and entertainment wasteland.  

Russians have gotten used to being a modern country like Europe and the rest of the developed world. They buy Western goods like Levis and Prada bags and Hermes scarves and Gucci shoes. Ban the lot. Ban travel from Russia to Paris and Rome and London to shop and eat at the great restaurants of the civilized world. Take from them all the privileges of wealth, all the rights of civilized citizens to travel and enjoy themselves and their money by spending it outside of Russia. I understand that it wasn't ordinary Russians who ordered their army into Ukraine, but Putin did it in their name. These kinds of sanctions that will affect Russians who are not wealthy and corrupt will cause pain, but it's nowhere near the kind of pain their army is causing next door in Ukraine, where people are being killed, being turned into refugees fleeing their homes and losing their businesses and incomes. What's worse? Not being able to spend your money, or having your home and your job — your entire country — taken from you by force?

The fall of the Soviet Union allowed Russia to come out from behind the Iron Curtain and join the rest of the world. Drop a new Iron Curtain around Russia and send them back. 

Putin is waging old-fashioned warfare against Ukraine. He is rolling his tanks and his cannons and his missile launchers into a country with the aim of seizing its land and installing a "friendly" puppet government that will follow his orders and do what he says.

NATO and the West have closed off the option of responding with force to Putin's invasion of Ukraine, but maybe that's not such a bad thing. This is our opportunity to wage truly modern warfare by locking Russia down within its borders and denying the country and its citizens the things and privileges of modern life they have come to enjoy over the last 30 years. 

If we're not going to put NATO troops into Ukraine to help them fight the Russians, then we should cause them to suffer an amount of pain equivalent to what they are wreaking on Ukraine. Already there are shortages of food and gas and other necessities in Ukraine. Why shouldn't Russia be suffering the same shortages of the same goods and services? Why shouldn't Russia feel the same pain they are causing to their neighbor? 

One of the major mistakes we made with Vladimir Putin was to assume that he and Russia would go along with post-Cold War norms that started with, but were not limited to, respecting the sovereignty and borders of other nations. Putin has broken those rules, so far without consequence. It's time to make him pay. 

We have to learn to treat countries as what they are when they speak with bullets and bombs and missiles. Vladimir Putin has turned Russia into the world's largest terrorist enclave, and we should treat it that way. Russia is now an outlaw country. No civilized nation should allow Russian money, Russian people, Russian businesses, or elements of the Russian government through its borders. 

The West has left Ukraine all alone to fight the invasion by Russia. Putin wants to take Ukraine and turn it effectively into part of Russia, and to one degree or another it looks like he will succeed. Well, let's see how Putin and Russia and its people like it when they and their new "republic" are all alone, cast out by the world of civilized nations. 

More commentary on Putin's invasion of Ukraine: 

By Lucian K. Truscott IV

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He has covered stories such as Watergate, the Stonewall riots and wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels and several unsuccessful motion pictures. He has three children, lives in rural Pennsylvania and spends his time Worrying About the State of Our Nation and madly scribbling in a so-far fruitless attempt to Make Things Better. You can read his daily columns at and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

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