But don’t think the suspension won’t sting. Mr. Putin burnishes his standing at home by his association with world leaders, and along with sanctions the banishment from polite Western society will make at least some Russians think twice about Mr. Putin’s Imperial Russia project.
Anything is possible, but it seems more likely that suspending Russia from the G-8 will be received in Russia with the same dismissive mockery that has greeted Western punitive measures so far. Imagine how hawks here in the U.S. might greet news that our president was not allowed to attend some multilateral meeting dominated by unfriendly governments, and you’ll begin to get an idea of how little most Russians will care about this. No one can pretend that Russia’s suspension from the group has much significance, and it is one of the emptiest symbolic gestures of disapproval that Western governments can make. As such, it is mostly harmless, but it also doesn’t matter much one way or the other.
Since Putin now seems interested in appealing to a more nationalist audience at home, I doubt very much that keeping it out of G-8 meetings will “sting” at all. After all, being “banished” from the company of Western governments is what many of Putin’s supporters at home desire. It may even be useful for Putin to be barred from attending meetings with the same leaders that say they want to inflict punishment on him and his allies. Besides, unless it makes influential actors inside the Russian government think twice, the other members are doing this for no other reason than to placate critics at home that want “something” to be done.
Western hawks have a strange habit of expressing nothing but contempt for foreign leaders while assuming that those same leaders care whether or not Westerners approve of their actions. The other members of the G-8 are obviously free to exclude Russia from their meetings, but it is silly to think that this punishes Russia in any meaningful way. The more that Western governments try to ostracize Russian leaders, the easier it will be for them to ignore Western complaints and demands, which defeats the purpose of the ostracism.