For violating a country’s national sovereignty, annexing its territory, breaking international law, disrupting the balance of power, and trashing the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, Vladimir Putin’s Russia has faced one primary retaliation from the West: targeted sanctions against a handful of prominent Russian officials.
But while Russia consolidates its gains, the very people America and the West sought to punish view their “punishment” as a jest, if not as a badge of honor. Far from discouraging Russia or causing the country to regret its invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, the sanctions, which include asset freezes and travel restrictions, are instead seen as a grand joke.
In a meeting with those targeted by the sanction, President Putin reportedly kidded his foreign minister, “We should distance ourselves from them. They compromise us.”
The targets themselves expressed similarly jovial sentiments. Russia’s deputy prime minister, Dimitry Rogozin, tweeted the following
I think some prankster prepared the draft of this Act of the US President)— Dmitry Rogozin (@DRogozin) March 17, 2014
Sergei Aksenov, Crimea’s new prime minister and another target, tweeted a picture of Obama in a colonel’s uniform saying, in translation, “Interestingly, after the success of the company in returning Crimea, Barack is getting the rank of colonel?”
Vladislav Surkov, a wealthy Russian businessman and aide to Putin, said that the sanction is “a big honor for me. I don’t have accounts abroad. The only things that interest me in the U.S. are Tupac Shakur, Allen Ginsberg, and Jackson Pollock. I don’t need a visa to access their work. I lose nothing.”
Surkov also said that he views being a target as a distinction, as if he won a “political Oscar from America for best supporting actor.”
Sergei Mironov, a member of the Russian Duma, scoffed in particular at the travel restrictions, saying, “The promised sanctions do not frighten me at all. I love to travel and vacation in Russia.” Seeing as Russia is nearly twice the geographical size of the United States, Mironov should have no problem finding a good spot to get away and unwind.
Western sanctions target fewer than 30 Russians out of a population of nearly 150 million. The targets of the sanctions seem to be in agreement with Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, who said on MSNBC earlier this week, “This president’s response, I don’t know how it could have been weaker besides doing nothing.”
— Alec Torres is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.