As the political turbulence between the Ukraine and Russia continues on into 2018, the United States stepped in on January 26th to issue new sanctions against a reported 21 individuals and 9 entities connected to the ongoing violence seen between the two countries. However, despite these measures, U.S. President Donald Trump has continued to receive his fair share of criticism over his so-called leniency in regards to the handling of relations with the world’s largest country by area and its beleaguered leader, Vladimir Putin. The newly enacted sanctions are the latest in a series of similar moves taken against the Kremlin by both the European Union and the United States since the country’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014. Experts have struggled to identify the true motive behind Putin’s actions in this regard, however the general presumption remains that Russia seized the peninsula in order to prevent the Ukraine from joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), further boosting the group’s presence along Russian borders. NATO, an intergovernmental military partnership between twenty-nine North American and European countries, acts as a mutual defense system that aims to protect its member states from military action taken by external parties. In this scenario, individuals on both sides of the conflict have been sanctioned “including Russian business executives and government officials”, a group that includes embattled deputy energy minister Andrei Cherezov, who “had been hit earlier by European Union measures for his role in a scheme to ship power turbines to Crimea” (Eckel, 2018). Additionally, “senior leaders of two Ukrainian separatist groups, the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic, as well as people and entities alleged to have provided them with material support” were also sanctioned (Koran, 2018). Reports have indicated that the nine entities involved were primarily “technology, construction, and shipping firms supporting Russia’s occupation” (Buckley Sandler, 2018).
The latest sanctions have been viewed as a direct U.S. opposition to Russia occupying Crimea, with many believing that the U.S. will likely continue their sanctions against Russia until the Ukrainian government once more controls the peninsula. Prior to the 2018 sanctions, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) proposed a series of actions that included the introduction of the Countering Russian Influence in Europe and Eurasia Act (CRIEEA), which prohibited supplying Russian oil initiatives with goods, services, or technology – measures that became effective on January 29th after being proposed in the fall of 2017. This act was further amended under OFAC’s “Directive 4” in November, legislation that issued guidance on “restrictions related to foreign financial institutions, facilitating transactions with sanctioned persons, sanctions evasion, and investments in Russian state-owned assets”, as well as “CRIEEA’s authorization of sanctions targeting the railway and metal and mining sectors” (Rapa, 2017). As expected, the initiatives brought forth last week have added more fuel to the metaphorical Russian fire – the new sanctions have reportedly not been well-received by the government. Members of Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs have mocked the sanctions campaigns run by the U.S. and other international bodies, publicly stating that these efforts will not lead to any lasting nor significant results. Vladimir Dzhabaraov, a member of Russia’s lower house of parliament summed up the common sentiment seen throughout Russia, recently voicing his belief that the new policy’s are intended to contain “a growing Russia” by declaring a trade war against them (Eckel, 2018).
While Russia’s presence in Eastern Europe has long been viewed as just one in a lengthy list of factors leading up to the escalating tensions seen between the two countries in recent years, the Federation’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election has also been tagged as a key element in the lead up to the nearly-irreparable state of relations seen between the two world powers today; the latter resurfacing to cause an international stir last week. President Trump came under fire on January 28th, following his announcement to indefinitely postpone the imposition of additional sanctions, measures that had been set to be levied against Russia in response to the Kremlin’s alleged involvement in the aforementioned election. Although both sides of the alleged scandal have denied all claims of collusion to date, Congress voted almost unanimously for new sanctions to be brought forth as a punishment against Russia in the summer of 2017, and individual members of the legislature have been critical of the decision by the President since his proclamation. Furthermore, Reuters has reported that “twenty Senate Democrats sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday saying the failure to impose sanctions was ‘unacceptable’”, accusing Trump of “failing to do everything possible to deter any future foreign election interference” (Strobel & Becker, 2018). CIA Director Mike Pompeo has backed the statement from the Senators, saying that he fully expects Russia to target future U.S. elections beginning with the fast-approaching congressional elections that will be held in November of this year.
Many of Trump’s leftist opponents, and even some loyal party members, have also voiced their opinions on what has been deemed an inability to adequately defend the United States through his lack of prudent action. Trump has yearned for improved relations with Russia since the start of his tenure as Commander in Chief, and the published list of potential targets for the sanctions – essentially a drawn out register of Russian oligarchs – has only had negative effects on said partnership. Putin has regarded the list as “an unfriendly act’”, one that would likely harm Russian-American relations going forward. Moscow has allegedly “dismissed the public document as little more than a ‘telephone directory’ of the rich” that will not manifest into veritable results, thus retaliation is not expected (Strobel & Becker, 2018). Nevertheless, the Monday deadline for imposition of additional sanctions against Russia and those conducting business with the Russian military and intelligence sectors, respectively, has come and gone. The subsequent effects of this decision remain to be seen.