Obama Lowers The Boom On Russia

by Patrick Appel


Today Obama announced new sanctions:

President Obama took new steps Thursday to intensify the economic isolation of Russia following its “illegal” annexation of Crimea, which could have a “significant impact on the Russian economy,” the president said. Speaking from the White House on Thursday, Obama said the U.S. will move “to impose sanctions not just on individuals but on key sectors of the Russian economy.” Senior White House officials say the sanctions will apply to 20 senior members of the Russian government and other “cronies.” They will also apply to St. Petersburg-based Rossiya Bank, which will be “frozen out of the dollar,” making it difficult for the institution to operate internationally.

The sanctions will target Russia’s financial services, energy, mining, and engineering sectors, officials said Thursday.

Miriam Elder thinks the sanctions have teeth:

The first round of sanctions announced by Obama on Monday was symbolic but ultimately toothless, targeting people with big mystiques but little power in today’s Kremlin … These sanctions are different. They hit as close to Putin without targeting the man himself. There are a couple notable absences from the list — Alexei Miller, the CEO of Gazprom, and, more importantly, Igor Sechin, the CEO of the state oil company Rosneft and one of Putin’s hardline advisors. But by reaching to his favorite oligarchs, the U.S. has hit Putin where it hurts. There’s a reason most outside Russia have never heard of these people — in Russia those with the real power stay in the shadows.

Drum expects “we’ll quickly get a pro forma response about how weak and vacillating this is from Bill Kristol, John McCain, and Charles Krauthammer.” Prior to the sanctions announcement, Fred Kaplan put America’s spat with Russia in perspective:

What’s going on now is not Cold War II.

The Cold War split the entire world in two factions. Scads of civil wars, regional wars, and wars of national liberation were, in some sense, “proxy wars” in the titanic struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union. China was used as a lever for playing one side off the other—and China played off both. Nothing like that is going on now. Nothing like it could possibly go on now. Neither side has the leverage to do it. Russia has no global reach whatsoever. Russia has no support for its actions in Ukraine; China has evinced no interest in it.

Right now, then, this is at most a regional conflict, not a global one, and the best thing that Obama can do—in both his threats and his inducements—is to keep it that way. Certain Republicans on Capitol Hill could help. Senators like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who used to know better, could lay off their absurd yelping about Obama’s “weakness” and “feckless leadership.” For one thing, it’s not true; at least when it comes to this crisis, they’ve recommended very few steps that Obama hasn’t already taken. If they’re really worried about Putin’s perceptions of America, instead of merely clamoring to make political points with GOP extremists, they should stand by the president and make sure Putin understands that, on this issue, there are no domestic fissures for him to exploit.

Russia also sanctioned US officials today:

The Russian response has been received as less potent than the new U.S. sanctions. The United States announced a round of sanctions targeting officials and oligarchs with close ties to Putin as well as Bank Rossiya — individuals and entities that many Russia watchers never expected to be hit with sanctions.