On Thursday, in Washington and Brussels, a coordinated set of sanctions was unveiled against Ukrainian officials by US President Barack Obama and leaders of the European Community. The sanctions freeze the assets of senior officials of the former Kiev regime closely associated with Moscow and who supported Russia’s illegal military intervention in the Crimea. As the sanctions were being rolled out, Crimean parliamentarians voted to hold a referendum in the Russian-aligned region on whether it should re-join the Moscow motherland or remain part of a deeply fractured, linguistically divided and ethnically polarised Ukraine.

Let us be clear: Russia’s de facto re-annexation of Crimea contravenes all international law and treaties and, in essence, is no different than Saddam Hussain’s decision to invade and subjugate the sovereign territory of Kuwait. It is a power grab by the Kremlin, determined to greedily make the most of the turmoil in Kiev. Russian President Vladimir Putin has acted to enhance his standing in Moscow and has adopted a policy of growing his nation in a manner no different than that embarked upon by Adolf Hitler some 75 years ago. While Crimea has decided to hold a referendum on March 16 on its future, that referendum is illegal and has no weight whatsoever under the Ukrainian constitution. Its inevitable result will be warmly welcomed in Moscow as a stamp of approval for the Kremlin’s actions.

The sanctions are just a first step in opposing this ugly expansionist chapter in Putin’s political CV. If the Kremlin continues with this dangerous annexation, Russia needs to be politically and economically isolated, treated as an international pariah, no different from the regime of Saddam.

Sanctions against individuals are a first step. The West needs to show that it cannot and will not stand idly by while Ukraine — or indeed other former member states of the USSR — are sliced apart to appease the political and ethnic aspirations of Moscow. While the Russian president defended his moves in Ukraine during a phone call with US President Barack Obama yesterday and there is no appetite for military intervention in the West, yet, building a wall of sanctions around Russia and containing Putin in economic isolation is a viable option.