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Punishing Russia will hurt the West too

The London branch of VTB, a newly sanctioned Russian bank. Richard Baker/In Pictures/Getty

The West is more than able to inflict sanctions “that would make Russian eyes water”, says James Forsyth in The Times. The problem is, “they’d make British eyes water, too”. Imposing the toughest penalties on Russian aggression – a boycott of its oil and gas, say – would lead to a spike in energy prices and send the cost of living through the roof. The West currently buys $700m of Russian oil and gas every day, and substitutes are thin on the ground. Here in Britain, we buy just 3% of our gas from Russia, so our most effective tool is financial sanctions. We should slap an “unexplained wealth order” on every Putin ally living in London, and seize the “trophy assets” of any oligarchs who can’t prove how they made their fortunes. The downside is that this would hit the City hard.

The best deterrent would be a bigger army. Britain currently has “about 15,000 troops it can deploy for any length of time”, compared to the 190,000 Russia massed on Ukraine’s borders. “As the old military saying has it, at some point mass makes quality.” A larger army, with a serious presence in the Baltic states next door to Russia, would have to be paid for. But this “new era of seriousness” has costs. Otherwise, the Kremlin will be confirmed in its suspicion that the West “is too decadent to take the measures that will really hurt”.

The big picture

It’s great that Britain has such good spies, former MI6 chief Alex Younger tells Radio 4’s Today programme. But when it comes to Russia, “the simplest thing to do is just to listen to what Vladimir Putin has said”. On Ukraine, “he’s been extremely clear”. First, the Russian leader considers Ukraine’s existence as an independent state to be “an aberration”. Second, he regards Nato’s expansion as “fundamentally unjust”. He is “intent on unwinding both”. The trouble is, Putin is badly advised, deeply frustrated and in a “state of messianic certainty”. But he is almost certainly underestimating the challenges of this invasion. “Starting wars is an easier thing than finishing them.”

Listen to the full interview here, from 1:50:00.