Putin's illegal war on Ukraine last year sparked parallel wars, first a grinding war between artillery and infantry, and then a behind-the-scenes struggle away from the Ukrainian-Russian border in which the financial, legal and organizational power of the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden and its Western allies is mobilized against Russia's incoherent oil and gas economy.
The West's goal in waging the second war (the war of economic sanctions) was to punish Russia and exhaust its ability to continue the ground war in Ukraine, but the results of this effort so far have been mixed.
The sanctions drain Russian state revenues, shake the country's financial foundations, and gradually isolate Moscow from the global financial system, but they have not depleted its will or ability to fight, nor have they caused the economic collapse that some expected.
As for sanctions, time should be on the West's side, noting that measures imposed by the United States and European countries are expected to inflict increasing pain on the Russian president's regime and the oligarchy that are helping it survive.
An innovative measure that came into effect in December 2021 could increase pressure on Russia was to prevent Washington and its allies in the Group of Seven from servicing the movement of Russian crude oil, including insurance, shipping and trading companies.
Western governments should step up their scrutiny of the increasing scams used by sanctions-busting traders and middlemen to circumvent Western restrictions on Russian energy exports and, where possible, punish them.
Pressure on banks
Other ways could stifle the Russian economy, such as increasing pressure on banks, including those in the West, that handle Russian energy revenues, such as Gazprom and its Luxembourg branch, which is the main channel for continued European payments for Russian gas.
The United States and its allies could also expand individual sanctions against Russian oligarchs who support the Kremlin, which Canada has already sought when it became the first Group of Seven country to seek to seize assets frozen from sanctioned oligarch Roman Abramovich under a law passed last year, use his funds for Ukraine's reconstruction efforts and compensate Ukrainian war survivors.
Depleting the Russian economy with sanctions and their tough enforcement would convince Putin along with other Russian elites that the price of his "foolishness" would be higher, lasting a long time and causing more pain than the Kremlin currently imagines.