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Proving that a story can be simultaneously utterly bizarre and make perfect sense, the New York Times reports that Middle Eastern and African refugees are crossing into Europe through … wait, Finland!?
Compared with the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war or hardship who made the trek to Europe last year through Turkey to Greece, the flow of refugees and migrants on the Arctic route through Russia — first into Norway and later into Finland — is tiny. But the stop-go traffic has added a hefty dose of geopolitical anxiety, not to mention intrigue, to a crisis that is tearing the European Union apart. It has sent alarm bells ringing in Helsinki, Finland’s capital far to the south, and in Brussels, where European Union leaders, at recent crisis meetings on migration, discussed the strange and ever-shifting Arctic route through Russia. The intrigue flows from a growing suspicion in the West that Russia is stoking and exploiting Europe’s migrant crisis to extract concessions, or perhaps crack the European unity over economic sanctions imposed against Moscow for its actions in Ukraine. Only one of the European Union’s 28 member states needs to break ranks for a regime of credit and other restrictions to collapse.
All of which comes as further confirmation — as if more were needed — that Vladimir Putin is: 1) a nasty piece of work; 2) a clever and dangerous one at that; and 3) someone with the dissolution of intra-European and transatlantic relations firmly in his sights. Do read the whole piece by the way; the details about how the Russians and refugees circumvent European law are hilarious, while the implications are frightening.
The problem in this and all other recent crises involving Russia is that Europe has been put in a defensive position while Putin acts with impunity, confident that he can get away with his mischief. But it needn’t be that way. Putin is no superman and there are plenty of things short of kryptonite that can hurt him (though I’m game for that, too,).
So, Ricochet, let’s say it’s 2017 and the new president asks us for ideas he can present to his NATO and EU colleagues on how to poke back at the Russian bear. The objective is to cause a positive change in behavior from Moscow while minimizing the risk of something like the situation in the Norwegian series Occupied (which is excellent, by the way).
To get your creative juices flowing, here’s one possibility my father — who knows a thing or two about messing with Russians — suggested: bypass Putin entirely and send a clear message to the oligarch billionaires who enable him:
The key to forcing these Russians to act, and thus to making the sanctions strategy succeed, will be to rapidly widen the gap that already exists between their financial interests and Putin’s political ambitions. Russia’s corporate business leaders don’t really care about Ukraine, or about Putin’s lunatic dream of re-creating the old Romanov Empire. They fight in boardrooms, not on battlefields; they would rather launch a hostile takeover bid for Kaiser Aluminum than for Kiev. Russia’s oligarchs are among the most pushy, self-indulgent, thoroughly unpleasant bunch of billionaires in history; the old phrase nouveau riche doesn’t come close to evoking their ostentatious behavior. All they care about are their yachts, their private jets, and the blonde-bombshell-shopoholic mistresses they stash at their multi-million-dollar condos in London, New York, and on the Riviera, and like to flash around at swishy restaurants.
Over to you.Published in