Mr. Putin has prided himself on playing a strong game with weak cards. He sees plenty of opportunities to hobble his adversaries abroad and further cement his position at home. That requires engaging in an asymmetric game — relying on dark arts to make inroads in a brutish world, exploiting the vulnerabilities of open societies while highlighting the benefits of his closed one.
.. Mr. Putin is likely surprised, but not fazed, by the breadth of the world’s collective response to the Skripal incident. He can overcome the inconvenience of losing intelligence operatives. He is also betting that divisions in the West will mean that these actions are the end, not the beginning, of a response.
It’s critical that Mr. Putin lose that bet.
.. Mr. Putin’s muscular revanchism can camouflage his weakness, but it cannot erase it. He remains reliant on a one-dimensional economy, constrained by sanctions, mired in the reckless adventures he’s pursued in Ukraine and Syria, and increasingly subordinate to China and its growing ambitions. An effective diplomatic response needs to expose Mr. Putin’s vulnerabilities as effectively as he has sought to exploit ours.
.. His biggest vulnerability is his diplomatic loneliness. He has nothing close to the web of alliances and partnerships that have anchored the United States and its partners.
.. It’s critical to work with our allies and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to establish a clear baseline to forcefully counter Mr. Putin’s unserious denials of culpability.
.. We have demonstrated our ability to work in concert on painful sanctions after Mr. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Now it’s time to tighten those screws further, fully apply the sanctions passed by Congress last summer, and work closely with our partners to follow suit.
.. The project of making Russia great is part and parcel of making Mr. Putin and his crony capitalist friends rich. That is also a vulnerability. Too many countries for too long have facilitated the enrichment and corruption of Mr. Putin’s inner circle. That needs to end.
.. Mr. Putin knows that the longer he is denied foreign direct investment, the further behind his economy will fall.
.. The Trump administration has signaled policy shifts, like pulling out of the Iranian nuclear agreement, that will make it easier for Mr. Putin to create wedges.