WATERVILLE — Colby College history professor Paul Josephson was disturbed by what he saw and heard during a visit to Moscow three weeks ago.
An expert on the region who speaks fluent Russian, Josephson met people there heady with the country’s recent success in the Sochi Olympics. There was a glow and happiness that Russia had done so well, as if the policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin had been affirmed. And Josephson found Putin’s attitude to be smug, “as if medals in Olympics that cost $532 billion and were marked by corruption were evidence of the justice of one’s rule.”
Even though Russian troops were still a week away from taking over Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, Josephson said, his friends and acquaintances in Russia were speaking righteously about corruption within the Ukrainian government.
Russian troops seized control of Crimea two weeks ago. Large numbers of Russian troops also are massed near the border with Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, which has sharp political differences with the country’s new government in Kiev.
On Monday, one day after the Crimean peninsula’s residents reportedly voted overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine, President Obama announced that the U.S. had frozen the assets of seven Russian officials.
Josephson supports the sanctions but said the action should have come sooner.
“I am disappointed that the Obama administration waited so long to impose the first of what I anticipate will be a series of sanctions against individuals and against the Russian government,” he said Monday. “Hitting these people where they can earn money and to begin to isolate them economically is a good step. I’m just disappointed that it took too long.”
Josephson said one of the obstacles to faster, tougher sanctions has been an overriding desire to act in a concerted fashion – getting the leaders of 28 European countries to agree as part of the European Union. The existing sanctions, and others that are likely to follow, will put pressure on Putin by targeting a group of individuals who have power in the country – its wealthiest citizens.
Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be contacted at 861-9287 or at: