Russia should realise that the occupation of Donbas and Crimea will become increasingly expensive for the Russian state budget, according to Alexander Vershbow, former NATO Deputy Secretary-General and former U.S. Ambassador to Russia.
He said this on Monday, February 8, during a virtual workshop "Can Biden get Putin out of Ukraine?" organised by the Atlantic Council.
Vershbow assessed how a controversial visit by EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell to Moscow last week could change the West's policy towards Russia and, in particular, support for Ukraine.
"The visit by Mr Borrell was clearly an embarrassment, I think, for Europeans, and that's what I'm seeing in the European commentaries on this," the diplomat said.
According to him, Russia's expelling of the European diplomats right in the middle of Borrell's meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was a real provocation.
"I don't think Borrell reacted forcefully enough at the time. But I think it does suggest that Russia feels besieged by the West. Of course, it only has itself to blame in terms of its aggressive behaviour to Ukraine, threats against Belarus and sending Mr. [Alexei] Navalny back to jail after failing to assassinate him," Vershbow added.
He noted that such circumstances make the prospects for improving relations with Russia pretty bleak for the West. However, he believes, this does not mean that the West should not challenge Russia diplomatically, both in terms of a wide range of bilateral relations and the Donbas issue.
"[The West should] make clear that the price of prolonging the status quo will continue to rise for Russia, and the cost of occupying Donbas may not be all that much for the Russian state budget."
He stressed that if the Russian taxpayers heard a little bit more about this from the media, they might begin to wonder whether this kind of adventurism is in their long-term interests.
"The key to achieving such a result is to show Russia that Western sanctions will not only stay in effect, but they will get more stringent if Russia continues to dig in."
With this development, Vershbow said, NATO-Ukraine relations will get closer, and Russia will be able to clearly understand that the presence of these occupied territories does not mean a "veto" on Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
"Another thing is to make clear to the Russian people that Putin is leading them down the wrong path. I think that could, maybe not immediately but in time, convince Putin to cut his losses in the war in Donbas."
Alexander Vershbow voiced his confidence that the Biden administration is going to make it very clear that the U.S. is not going to forget about Crimea.