Yet given Mr. Putin’s demonstrative disdain for the Geneva agreements, along with the aggressive behavior of Russian troops massed on Ukraine’s borders and the continued occupation of administrative and security buildings in southeastern Ukrainian cities by Moscow-directed secessionists, such targeted penalties are not likely to change Russia’s behavior. And the sort that would — coordinated United States-European Union sanctions on financial institutions, the energy sector or defense industries — have proved very difficult to construct, largely because of the substantial difference between American and European exposure to Russia’s economy.
About a quarter of the European Union’s gas supplies come from Russia, and despite years of talk about reducing this dependence, little has been done. European Union trade with Russia, moreover, amounted to almost $370 billion in 2012, compared with United States-Russia trade of $26 billion. This includes some huge sales, like the two helicopter carriers France is building for the Russian Navy as part of a $1.6 billion deal signed in 2011. What that means is that any sanctions that really bite will cost Europe a lot more than the United States.
But there will be other costs if Europe and America do not join in a unified response. Among other things, a weak and fragmented response would call into question a longstanding trans-Atlantic commitment to protect international law and democratic values against the kind of aggression Mr. Putin is engaging in. And optics here are important: The decision of Gerhard Schröder, the former German chancellor, to meet with Mr. Putin on Monday in St. Petersburg and embrace him in a bear hug sent an unacceptable signal that some prominent Europeans are willing to ignore Mr. Putin’s brutish ways.
This is another example of the fact that the European Union is once again unable to reach a common position on a matter of great importance. What kind of a member of NATO is e.g. France, which is selling helicopter carriers to a dictator with blood in his hands! Schröder is a hopeless case, but it is shameful that Germany's business leaders want to continue their co-coperation with Putin and his cronies as if nothing would have happened.