Trump’s sharp response to Russia

Trump’s sharp response to Russia
Over the weekend the US government announced that it was imposing sanctions on seven Russian oligarchs and 12 companies they own or control. Sanctions have..

Over the weekend the US government announced that it was imposing sanctions on seven Russian oligarchs and 12 companies they own or control. Sanctions have also been imposed on 17 senior Russian government officials and a state-owned Russian weapons trading company and its subsidiary, a Russian bank.

Background

Russian Federation is the successor state to the Soviet Union. Before its dissolution, Soviet Union and the US were the key factions in world politics. They were briefly allies during the World War II but by the end of the war, they had become hostile. Brewing mistrust was one of the main reasons for the Cold War.

The end of Cold War and the dissolution of Soviet Union (as well as the creation of Russia) seemingly brought an end to a period of uncertainty and turmoil. Relations even improved between the two nations during the tenure of Russia's President Boris Yeltsin but it took a significant step back under Putin.

Relations between Russia and the US deteriorated in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea. It cited a controversial referendum for doing so. As a result, Barack Obama and his EU allies unveiled a coordinated set of sanctions against Russia and ordered it to leave Crimea. Russia responded with counter-sanctions.

Russia’s alleged interference in the US Presidential elections has further caused tensions in the ties. Despite Russia’s repeated denials, US imposed harsh sanctions on Russia. In retaliation, Russia announced that 755 US diplomats would have to leave Russia by September 1, 2017.

Russia has increasingly incurred criticism from the international community in the recent years. It has been accused of interfering and hacking the elections of US and France. UK has also warned the country for trying to interfere in foreign elections. The UK government has also accused Kremlin for playing a role in the recent nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy. Most recently, Russia has been criticized for its continued support of the Syrian government especially when news emerged that the government may have orchestrated a chemical attack on its own people.

Analysis

The chemical attack in Syria left at least 42 dead and hundreds affected. US President Donald Trump staunchly criticized not only the Assad government but also Russian President Vladimir Putin. Only days after the criticism, the Trump administration announced that it was imposing sanctions on seven Russian oligarchs and 12 companies they own or control. Sanctions have also been imposed on 17 senior Russian government officials and a state-owned Russian weapons trading company and its subsidiary, a Russian bank.

“The Russian government operates for the disproportionate benefit of oligarchs and government elites,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin.  “The Russian government engages in a range of malign activity around the globe, including continuing to occupy Crimea and instigate violence in eastern Ukraine, supplying the Assad regime with material and weaponry as they bomb their own civilians, attempting to subvert Western democracies, and malicious cyber activities.  Russian oligarchs and elites who profit from this corrupt system will no longer be insulated from the consequences of their government’s destabilizing activities.”

The government cited the violence in Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea as well as Russia’s alleged cyber attacks as reasons for the sanctions. Only a couple of weeks ago, it was reported that Russian oligarchs had been searched by the US special counsel regarding Kremlin’s interference on US elections.

Among the targeted Russians are Kirill Shamalov, who has grown massively wealthy since marrying Putin’s daughter in 2013. “Nobody has been tougher on Russia than I have,” Trump said at a news conference on Tuesday.

Senator John McCain, a Republican of Arizona who has been critical of Trump’s posture on Russia, applauded the new wave of economic sanctions. “Today’s sanctions send a clear message to Putin and his cronies that there will be a high price to pay for Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and Syria, and its attempts to undermine Western democracies, including our own,” McCain said in a statement.

Vladimir Bogdanov, Oleg Deripaska, Suleiman Kerimov, Igor Rotenberg, Kirill Shamalov, Andrei Skoch and Viktor Vekselberg are among those who have been sanctioned. Last month, the US targeted 19 Russians and five other entities with sanctions in the first use of the law.

Assessment

Our assessment is that the announcement might leave a jumbled impression of how Trump plans to approach the Kremlin in his second year in office. President Trump has gone from trying to establish warm ties with Putin to placing US on a direct collision with Kremlin. Can this dissolution of US-Russia ties result in yet another cold war? 

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