Putin ‘raised the stakes’ on war in Ukraine. Will sanctions deter him?

President Putin further escalated tensions with the West Monday with his decision to recognize territories in eastern Ukraine as an independent state. David Kramer, managing director of global policy at the George W. Bush Institute, and Angela Stent, a Georgetown University professor and intelligence officer during the George W. Bush administration, join Judy Woodruff to discuss the ramifications.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And today's moves by Russia's President Vladimir Putin could have far-reaching consequences.

    For what those ramifications might be, we get two views.

    David Kramer is the managing director for global policy at the George W. Bush Institute, a think tank. He served as an assistant secretary of state during the Bush administration. And Angela Stent, she worked in the State Department during the Clinton administration and served as a top U.S. intelligence officer on Russia during the George W. Bush administration.

    She's now a professor at Georgetown University.

    Welcome to the "NewsHour" to both of you

    David Kramer, to you first.

    Taking today's developments together, the statement by Vladimir Putin that Russia will now recognize the independence of these two breakaway regions, and the — what is reported to be the movement of Russian troops into that eastern region, what does it all amount to?

    David Kramer, Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State: Judy, I think today may have been a fatal day for diplomacy.

    Mr. Putin seems to have gone completely haywire in the past 24 hours, where he initially offered a tentative agreement to French President Macron on a meeting with President Biden. That now seems very unlikely. Even a meeting scheduled for this Thursday with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary of State Blinken seems very unlikely.

    Putin all of a sudden has really hit the accelerator, and I think has turned this into a really critical point.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Angela Stent, do you also see this as a fatal day for diplomacy?

    Angela Stent, Director, Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies, Georgetown University: Yes, I do, unfortunately.

    We had an unusually aggressive speech by Putin. He expressed all of the grievances that he's been expressing for the past 15 to 20 years. And by recognizing these so-called Republicans as independent entities, by sending Russian troops in formally now — I mean, there have been Russian troops there since 2014 — he has raised the stakes, the likelihood of an actual war with Ukraine.

    He was unrelenting in his criticism of Ukraine in this speech today, denigrated them. We haven't quite seen anything like this. This is much worse than what he did at the Munich Security Conference in 2015.

    And it does not bode well for the future.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David Kramer, explain the significance of Putin today saying Russia now recognizes the independence of these two regions, for people who don't follow exactly what's been happening in that part of the world.

  • David Kramer:

    Well, Putin is following a plan that he followed in Georgia in 2008, with recognizing separatist regions in that area. And Russia occupies 20 percent of Georgian territory to this day. He now has done what he did in 2014 with the illegal annexation of Crimea, except, this time, in the case of the Donetsk and Luhansk republics, he has recognized them as independent states.

    That means that the Minsk process, which was signed under duress by Ukraine and Russia, France, and Germany in 2014 and again in 2015, is essentially dead. And that might have been one possible road map for a negotiated solution to this.

    Putin, by recognizing Donetsk and Luhansk republics, has essentially killed the Minsk process. And that's going to make finding a diplomatic solution much more complicated.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Angela Stent, pick up on that, if you will, because the reaction we're hearing not just from the United States, but from the countries who belong to NATO, is that this is going to trigger strong reactions from each one of them.

    They are looking at sanctions as well. Why is it sanction-worthy, what he has done?

  • Angela Stent:

    Well, because this is the — it could be the prelude to a larger conflict.

    This is the second time, if we just look at Georgia, but there are other frozen conflicts, that Russia has flouted international law, international norms. He — they're essentially marching into another country again, and declaring part of Ukraine independent entities.

    This — I'm glad that they're going to meet and talk about this in the United Nations. I mean, this isn't only a problem for Europe. It's a broader global problem, the example of doing this. And this is why people are already talking about imposing sanctions for this violation.

    You should remember that the Russian proxies who run these two entities don't control all the territory there. And that, again, could be an excuse for the Russians, if there is more — is more fighting there, to march further into Ukraine.

    So I think this really does have very serious implications for the future of Europe.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    No question.

    And, David Kramer, we — of course, there's no way to know what Vladimir Putin's next moves are. But, based on this, is he — when you look at the sanctions that the Biden White House is talking about today, as we heard Nick Schifrin reporting, specifically sanctions that affect individuals in those two regions, is that likely to have any deterrent effect on Mr. Putin?

  • David Kramer:

    No, not at all.

    I think the U.S. and our European allies and others need to go significantly further. That action will get no one's attention, frankly. If we want to try to stop Mr. Putin where he is now, recognizing that he has already further invaded Ukraine through this move, then I think we have to look at hitting his circle, the immediate circle around him.

    We have to start looking at the Russian financial and energy sectors, export controls and other measures, that the sanctions on Putin and his circle I think are the ones that Putin fears the most. And so, while he hasn't launched a full-scale invasion, this looks like he's on the verge of doing so, or at least putting diplomacy to the side and resorting to force and war.

    And so, in that case, I think we need to move now to try to preempt any further action and give Mr. Putin a taste of what could come if he goes even further.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And following on that, Angela Stent, the statement out of the White House today did say that these sanctions we're announcing now are separate from what we have in mind and what we would impose if there's a further military move on Ukraine.

    Are those next set of sanctions, whatever we believe those to be, are they likely to have a deterrent effect on Putin?

  • Angela Stent:

    Yes, I'm less sure that they are unlikely to have a deterrent effect.

    I think Putin and the people around him really have discounted that. They don't care. They really want to move ahead and restore Russia as the great power in Europe. And I'm not sure, unless there is a full invasion of Ukraine, an attack on Kyiv, whether most of our allies would go along with the very tough sanctions, financial sanctions, sanctions on individuals that David Kramer's already talked about, and also export controls.

    There's still a lot of discussion about that. And there isn't full consensus on that. and this may not deter Putin.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That's actually raising an interesting question, David Kramer.

    If — and we're in speculation land here — but the Russians go into this disputed region in Eastern Ukraine, and they don't go further — farther in for the time being, will the European — will NATO be united in what it's prepared to do, whether it changes Putin's behavior or not?

  • David Kramer:

    Well, I think NATO is united in terms of boosting the military presence in countries like Poland, Romania and the Baltic states.

    The European Union, however, I think, could wind up with some disagreements on what steps warrant sanctions by the E.U. Keep in mind, the E.U. needs agreement among all 27 member states. So we may be facing a situation in which the United States will have to act unilaterally.

    That's not ideal, but we shouldn't underestimate the impact U.S. sanctions have. They are extraterritorial in nature, and they could have a significant impact. Angela may be right that they won't deter Putin. He seems now, for sure, to have made up his mind. But I think we — the United States should work with the E.U. to the extent we can, but not settle for the lowest common denominator, do what we have to do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Angela Stent, what do you think it would take to change or to redirect what Mr. Putin has in mind right now? And will anything have an effect on his thinking?

  • Angela Stent:

    Well, unfortunately, I don't really think we have many more cards to play.

    I mean, there is the diplomatic card, although I agree, at this point, does it make sense for Secretary Blinken or, indeed, President Biden, to meet with Minister Lavrov and President Putin?

    If Putin's mind is made up, which we — our intelligence agencies seem to think that it is, it would be very hard to deter him. And so it's very difficult to see what diplomatic solution could get him to climb down from a process that he's now initiated and whose end we don't really understand.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, a grim turn of events today, for sure.

    Angela Stent, David Kramer, we thank you both.

  • David Kramer:

    Thank you.

  • Angela Stent:

    Thank you.

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