As reported by The Hill, a State Department official recently commented that bipartisan legislation passed last year authorizing new sanctions on Russia is already “serving as a deterrent,” and there’s no need to actually implement the penalties at this time.
Perhaps, under normal circumstances, such justification for disregarding a law would have raised more than a few eyebrows. However, American media and public attention focused almost immediately thereafter on revelations from the Republican chair of the House Intelligence Committee and in particular, on accusations of malfeasance by the FBI.
Nonetheless, the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act is a law signed by President Trump on August 2, 2017. It offers the president much less flexibility than in the past for maneuvering on the imposition of sanctions. This latest “maneuvering” on Russia by President Trump is cause for concern. It further manifests Mr. Trump’s conciliatory relationship with Russia and almost inveterate contempt for the rule of law – even a law that he signed, albeit reluctantly.
Sanctions against Russia were introduced for a number of reasons, including but not limited to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Russian interference in the U.S. presidential elections in 2016. Russia behavior elsewhere (Syrian chemical use, European elections, etc.) certainly did not help Russia’s cause.
In any event, Russian “bad behavior” in Ukraine has not only not abated, it has gotten worse. More and more people are dying in the war in the eastern regions of Ukraine. Aside from Russia showing no intention of loosening its grip on Crimea, its behavior within Crimea has been abysmal, beginning with its human rights violations and attempts to destroy the Crimean Tatars as an organized political force.
Russia has not complied with the two Minsk agreements and memoranda of September 2014 and February 2015. It continues to be an aggressor despite an “alleged” ceasefire agreed to by all sides. The number of Ukrainian dead in the Ukraine-Russia war exceeds now 10,300 and increases every day with many more wounded. Russia continues to interfere with monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Talks about U.N. peacekeeping are at a standstill. All of this was simply ignored in the recent statement issued and position taken by the Trump administration.
In fact the administration’s statement limited itself to alleged strict compliance – foreign governments and private sector entities which “had been put on notice that significant transactions with listed Russian entities will result in sanctions.” The administration stated: “the results of this effort are only beginning to become apparent… if the law is working, sanctions on specific entities or individuals will not need to be imposed because the legislation is, in fact, serving as a deterrent.” In the interim, Turkey, a NATO ally albeit ruled by an autocrat, is considering purchasing defense systems from Russia.
The Trump administration insists that it has redirected billions of dollars in sales from Russian entities. Still those entities remain classified. The administration issued an unclassified list of more than 200 Russian oligarchs and officials who are considered part of Russia’s corrupt regime. Apparently, there is an additional list of individuals that remains classified. Why not sanction and freeze the assets of those individuals? Declassification merely puts them on notice to protect their assets. It does little, if anything, to compel remorse and rehabilitation.
Russia’s continual aggression has had a profound effect on the international community. Unfortunately, America leads no longer. Only a month ago the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution on Russian occupation of Crimea decrying Russian imposition of its legal system and citizenship on the Ukrainians citizens of Crimea, Russian flouting of an order on Crimea by the International Court of Justice and Russia’s refusal to provide access to Crimea to U.N. human rights monitors. All of this is being ignored by the Trump White House and State Department.
President Trump’s current incomprehensible protection of Russia, while characteristic of past behavior, is enigmatic. There has been no deterrence because Russia remains undeterred. The recent consent to provide defensive arms to Ukraine, seen by some as Mr. Trump’s epiphany in his relationship with Russia, has proven to be an illusion or a diversion. Mr. Trump’s most recent refusal to further sanctions can only be viewed as business as usual, but confounding, nonetheless.
Mr. Trump’s entire presidency is under a cloud for his Russia connections in the past, including dealings for personal financial gain as a private citizen and a willingness to utilize Russian propaganda for his political purposes as a presidential candidate. Refusing to extend sanctions on those doing business with Russia is more of the same and corroborates allegations of a Russia connection.