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Russia Sanctions: Putin is Waiting for Trump to Take Office

Trump Putin Obama Russia Sanctions

The latest Russia Sanctions have created a difficult problem for the President-elect to solve: the House Republicans and the intelligence agencies are with the Obama administration. Sanctions on Russia by the United States and the European Union is not something new. Moscow’s arms deal with rogue states, Putin’s adventure in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, Kremlin’s human rights violations, and the latest cyber-attacks during the US election have instigated Washington to impose more than a dozen sanctions on Moscow. However, the latest sanctions by the Obama administration comes after CIA’s and FBI’s assessments that Putin deliberately sought to help Trump win the presidency.  The White House sanctioned four Russian individuals and five Russian entities for what it said was election interference. Moreover, the administration also ordered 35 Russian diplomats to leave the country and two Russian compounds are being closed.

Russia Sanctions by the US:

US-Russia relation is now at the worst since the Cold War. The alleged Kremlin-ordered hacking of the recent presidential election has triggered the Obama administration to add new sanctions over Russia. Washington has been very critical of the Russian arms deals with states like Iran, North Korea, and Syria. Under the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act, America has already a dozen sanctions on Russian individuals and business entities. Under the sanctions, US companies and government agencies are prohibited from doing business with those entities. The US government has also criticized Kremlin’s human rights violations: In 2012, the Congress unanimously passed the Magnitsky Act which condemns the extra-judicial killing of Sergei Magnitsky. Magnitsky, a tax lawyer at a prominent Russian investment firm, died at the hands of Russian authorities after exposing a tax fraud scheme run by Russian officials. More sanctions were imposed for Putin’s backing of separatists in east Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. His continued support for the pro-Russian separatists has left more than 9,000 dead and injured more than 20,000. The separatists shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17)  on 17 July 2014, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board: most of the passengers were from the Netherlands. The European Union joined the United States against Russia, though the EU reaction was milder compared to the US.

Russia Sanctions by the EU:

The EU joined the US against Russian involvement in Ukraine. Following the US lead in targeting more individuals in President Putin’s inner circle, the EU proposed travel ban and freezing assets of powerful individuals and businesses. Russian state banks are now excluded from raising long-term loans in the EU, and many Russian oil companies are not given technical and logistic support by the EU. The EU does much more business with Russia than the US does, and it depends on Russia for 30% of its energy. Anticipating tougher sanctions from Putin, the EU reins its reaction over the MH17 tragedy.

Republicans on the Russia Sanctions:

Most Democrats and many Republicans see Putin as a dictator responsible for the Syrian civil war. The proposed Qatar natural-gas pipelines is the ultimate apple of discord that has brought Assad and Putin against Gulf states and Saudi Arabia: Russian monopoly over the European energy sector is under direct threat by this pipeline. The pipeline can never reach Europe if Assad does not let it to, and hence he is so dear to Putin. Senator John McCain has called Vladimir Putin “a thug, a bully and a murderer” and said “anybody else who describes him as anything else is lying.” He sees Tillerson’s nomination as a “matter of concern.” Democrats and Republicans are united against the Russian interventions in Syria and Ukraine. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s statement after the President Obama’s decision to expel 35 Russian diplomat’s reflects this unity: “Russia does not share American’s interests, in fact, it has consistently sought to undermine them, sowing dangerous instability around the world. While today’s action by the administration is overdue, it is an appropriate way to end eight years of failed policy with Russia. And it serves as a prime example of this administration’s ineffective foreign policy that has left America weaker in the eyes of the world.”

Russia Sanctions and Russian Economy:

The sanctions certainly impact Russia’s weak economy which badly needs a lift. Sanctions imposed on banks and energy companies will not be able to access the much-needed US and EU capital. Russian economy is now facing weaker direct investment and soaring capital flight: Capital worth $75bn (£44bn) has left Russia so far this year. Russia is teetering on the brink of recession. The economy grew just 1.3% last year. Although Russia has huge oil and gas, it needs modern technology from the EU and the US to extract it.

Would Trump Undo the Russia Sanctions?

Trump’s pick for secretary of state, Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, has ties to Putin and is against the sanctions. Certainly Trump would give Russia a little relief by undoing some of the sanctions. The GOP would be a major barrier if Trump plans to revoke all the sanctions. Overturning the Russia sanctions on weapon sales and human rights violation will require Congress to approve it. Again, politically it would be very difficult for Trump to side with Putin as most Republicans see him as an autocrat. Trump must totally disregard the evidences provided the FBI and the DHS if he wants to lift the sanctions. Moreover, Putin’s expressed confidence in Trump through his reaction over the expulsion of the Russian diplomats from the US would further complicate the issue. Putin is waiting for Trump to take office, so is the rest of the world!

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About the author

Sayeed Noman

Sayeed Noman is a Fulbright scholar and an adjunct professor at Temple University. His PhD dissertation focuses on Afrocentricity, postcolonialism, and postmodernism. His interest ranges from political to economic and cultural issues.

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