Two years ago Russia detached Crimea from Ukraine. Since then the Western allies have imposed economic sanctions, but to little effect. No one believes Crimea, Russian until six decades ago, is going back to Ukraine.

Yet the European Union recently called on other countries to join its ineffective boycott. Declared the European Council, one of the EU’s multiple governing bodies: “The European Union remains committed to fully implementing its non-recognition policy, including through restrictive measures,” and “calls again on U.N. member states to consider similar non-recognition measures.”

The EU bars residents from financing or buying firms located in Crimea. The Europeans (and U.S.) also apply other, less severe restrictions on commerce with the rest of Russia.

However, most nations have avoided the controversy. They aren’t going to declare economic war on a faraway nation which has done nothing against them.

Although Washington, with less commerce at stake, remains among the most fervent advocates of sanctions, Europe is divided over the issue. Many Europeans saw no reason to penalize themselves in the midst of economic hard times in order to punish the Putin government.

Opposition has emerged to routine renewal in July of restrictions on Russia’s banking, energy and military industries. Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni announced: “We cannot take for granted any decision at this stage.” Also skeptical of continued economic war are Cyprus, Greece and Hungary.

Sanctions supporters insist that Russia more fully comply with the Minsk peace process and end support for the separatist campaign in Ukraine’s east. “Today Russia faces a choice between the continuation of economically damaging sanctions and fully meeting its obligations under Minsk,” contended U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Yet the armed conflict has ebbed, political crisis fills Kiev and some Ukrainians aren’t sure they want the separatists back. Indeed, Oksana Syroyid, deputy speaker of Ukraine’s Rada, has blocked passage of a constitutional amendment providing autonomy for the Donbass region, explaining: “We need to stop thinking of how to counter Putin, or how to please all our partners.”

Brussels faces the unpleasant possibility of Russia fulfilling its responsibilities while Ukraine breaks the deal. “Both sides need to perform,” complained German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Targeted sanctions have a certain appeal, hitting named individuals and concerns seen as consorting with evil. However, there is little evidence that they are more effective than broader measures.

The latter have hurt the Russian public without turning many of them against their government. Moreover, Western penalties have discouraged, even reversed, liberalization of the Russian economy, as businesses have grown even more dependent on government support.

The belief that imposing sanctions a little longer will force Moscow to capitulate reflects the triumph of hope over experience. The U.S. and EU are reinforcing failed policies, hoping that doing more of the same eventually will yield different results.

Rather than reflexively continue sanctions, the Western states should rethink their policy toward Russia. Vladimir Putin isn’t a nice guy, but that hardly sets him apart from other authoritarians.

Geopolitically, Ukraine matters far more to Moscow than to Europe or America. Russia always will spend and risk more to protect its perceived security interests next door.

And the West did much to challenge Moscow, including encourage a street revolt against a democratically elected president. That still didn’t justify Russia’s brutal actions to dismember its neighbor, but Putin acted predictably and rationally. He is neither Hitler nor Stalin reincarnated, but a traditional czar. Putin has never demonstrated a desire to swallow non-Russian peoples.

Thus, the allies should negotiate their way out of the sanctions box in which they are stuck. They could drop economic war, promise to stop expanding NATO along Russia’s border (most importantly, to Ukraine), reduce military support for Kiev, and encourage Ukraine to look both ways economically. Moscow could drop support for Ukrainian separatists, cooperate with restructuring Kiev’s unsustainable debts, accept Ukrainian economic ties with the EU, hold an internationally monitored status referendum in Crimea and accept whatever outcomes emerge from the messy Ukrainian political system.

Of course, Kiev is independent and free to decide its own future. But Ukrainians should choose their own course while fully aware that no one in the West is prepared to initiate all-out economic war, let along military conflict, with nuclear-armed Russia over Kiev’s status.

The U.S. and Europe shouldn’t allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good in policy toward Russia. At most economic sanctions act as a moral statement, but one better made through other means.

At the same time, there are many important issues in which the West would benefit from Russian assistance. After two years, it’s time to make a deal with Moscow and move on.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan. He is the author of “Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.”

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