Western allies early last week had hoped that incremental ratcheting of targeted economic sanctions would reverse Russia's aggression in Ukraine. But by week's end, events made it clear that hope isn't an effective policy strategy and that more pressure is needed.

On Friday, Ukranian forces launched an assault on a pro-Russian rebel stronghold in Slovyansk. That move brings into play Russian President Vladimir Putin's troops, who are amassed nearby.

Putin had warned Ukrainian military forces to withdraw from the region -- the nation's industrial heartland -- or face consequences.

Recognizing that eastern Ukraine may be a flash point, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has attempted to defuse matters. She talked with Putin by telephone on Thursday and Friday visited President Barack Obama at the White House.

She and Obama agreed that the West must punish Putin for his actions in Ukraine as well as contain him in ensuing years. That is important because there is significant disagreement inside the European Union on how best to respond to Putin.

While the latest Western sanctions created slight stress within Russia, it is unlikely to change much.

It's true that the previous sanctions have caused Standard & Poor's to downgrade Russia's debt to near junk status. However, when the new sanctions were announced Monday, the ruble immediately rose against the dollar because markets had expected much more severe sanctions.

If Obama and EU leaders hope to dissuade Russia from further action, they must be prepared to take much tougher economic steps.


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As we have said, Putin knows that neither the U.S. nor the EU is prepared to go to war to save Ukraine. Even if the leaders were so inclined, their constituents are not.

When the prospect of military conflict is removed from consideration, it leaves limited options: negotiating with Russia without much leverage, imposing economic sanctions, throwing repeated public tantrums or ignoring the situation altogether.

Economic sanctions win by default. But those are not as easily invoked as it might seem, especially when retaliation is likely.

Sanctions usually are most effective when they are broad based. It would do little good for the United States to impose strict sanctions on Russia, if the countries of the EU do not.

Also, it is far easier for the U.S. to favor strict sanctions because it does not have as much to lose as the EU. The EU gets much of its gas and other petroleum products from Russia, among other things.

For Western officials to convince Putin to reverse course, they must boldly craft strong sanctions against entire Russian economic sectors, not just individuals. Such action could mean economic sacrifices at home, but that is a prospect they must be willing to endure to save independence of Ukraine and other surrounding countries.