Sanctions For Sanctions’ Sake, Ctd

by Jonah Shepp

Yesterday, the US slapped sanctions on seven Russian and four Ukrainian officials for their involvement in the Crimean secession, including ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, but not on Vladimir Putin himself. The EU also announced similar sanctions on targeted individuals. Adam Taylor takes a closer look at the names on our list:

These people may not be household names in the United States or Western Europe, but they hold real power in Russia, which may not be apparent from the one-line descriptions given by the White House.

For starters, there’s Vladislav Surkov, described as a presidential aide to Putin. Surkov is notorious in Russia-watching circles as the theater director who later became a PR man for Mikhail Khodorkovsky. He eventually came to the Kremlin and used his understanding of publicity and image to help sustain and strengthen Putin’s presidency, with some even suggesting that he was the real power behind the throne. He was called “Putin’s Rasputin” in the London Review of Books, and the “Gray Cardinal” by many others. While he apparently fell out of favor after anti-Putin protests in 2012, he was brought back last fall to help deal with Ukraine and other situations.

Bershidsky slams the list, which he says doesn’t include the real culprits:

If the U.S. authorities’ purpose was to punish people responsible for Putin’s Ukrainian escapade, they should have started with the Russian president himself: He alone decides what Russia will or will not do. They also could have gone to the trouble of finding out who commanded the unmarked Russian troops that spread across Crimea, and who sent goons to foment unrest in southeastern Ukraine. Punishing Putin, however, must have seemed like a scary idea, and identifying those who did his dirty work turned out to be too challenging.

The EU, in fact, did a better job on that front. On Monday, it revealed its own list of 21 people targeted for sanctions, and it includes the commanders of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet and southern and western military districts, as well as a longer list of pro-annexation legislators and separatist Crimean officials.

Russia plans to retaliate with sanctions of its own:

[W]hile the final list is still being crafted, it will include top Obama administration officials and high profile U.S. senators, in an effort to roughly mirror the U.S. sanctions against Russian officials and lawmakers, according to diplomatic sources. At the top of the list in Congress is Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, who recently co-authored a resolution criticizing Russia’s invasion of Crimea.

Durbin’s inclusion on Putin’s list would mirror Obama’s naming of Valentina Matvienko, the head of the upper chamber of the Russian Duma. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are not expected to be on the Russian sanctions list.

Scott Clement notes that sanctions are the only response to Russia most Americans support:

Americans’ reluctance was laid bare in a CNN poll last week. Obama’s current policy is widely popular, with almost six in 10 supporting economic sanctions on Russia (it was 56 percent support  in a Post-ABC poll). But at least half of Americans opposed all five other potential actions asked in the survey: economic assistance to Ukraine’s government (52 percent opposed), canceling an international summit (58 percent), sending weapons to Ukraine’s government (76 percent), U.S. air strikes (82 percent) and ground troops (88 percent).

Larison reiterates the futility of sanctions:

When the U.S. passed the Magnitsky Act, did this cajole Russia into adopting reforms of its legal system or force it to commit fewer abuses? Obviously, it did nothing of the kind. All that it achieved was to irritate Moscow and convince them of American hostility, and it led to a series of Russian retaliatory measures that damaged relations with the U.S. and made the situation inside Russia significantly worse than it was before. Attempting to compel desired changes in Russian behavior contributed to a deterioration in the conditions that the attempt was supposed to ameliorate. These tactics almost never work, but Westerners keep trying them out of a misguided belief that anything that the other government dislikes must be the right and the smart thing to do. All sanctions are ultimately “unserious” in that they are reflexive responses to international events that often achieve nothing good. Sanctions frequently can’t deliver the results that their advocates claim that they can, but they can be dreadfully serious in their ability to wreck relations with other states and make bad situations worse.

Previous Dish on sanctions here.