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​Failing to stand up to Russia’s hostilities in Ukraine will “only embolden” Russian President Vladimir Putin to be even more aggressive, said Alexander Vershbow, who until recently was the Deputy Secretary-General of NATO. Lifting of economic sanctions, Vershbow told defense reporters Tuesday in Washington, D.C., would be a green light to continue building “‘Soviet Empire Lite,’ which is Putin’s agenda.” He thinks there could be a peaceful resolution in Ukraine, so long as Putin lives up to Russia’s obligations under the Minsk agreement, which calls for the removal of heavy weapons and Russian forces, mercenaries, and “volunteers” in Ukraine, and local autonomy for the Donetsk and Luhansk areas. None of that is likely unless NATO and the European Union “keep up the pressure” on Russia economically, Vershbow said. Otherwise, there is “no penalty” for Russia’s belligerence. Russia has to be reminded, “You have to have respect for the rules,” Vershbow asserted. However, he said the chances for a political solution have deteriorated with recent violations of the ceasefire. “I am convinced Ukraine is ready to live up to its agreements,” Vershbow said, but he’s worried about the “little gangster states” in Eastern Ukraine that “have more tanks than some NATO nations,” continuing to stir the pot and make lasting peace difficult. Vershbow also said that giving in to Russia by blocking or delaying pending NATO membership for Montenegro or Georgia would be a “failure of American leadership.” Ukraine has not applied for membership but is working to achieve “interoperability” with NATO as a prerequisite for membership.