new U.S. administration has yet to be tested internationally.
Canceling free trade agreements and talking tough with foreign
leaders is the relatively easy part. Responding to armed
conflict—including a potential Russian attack on an independent
neighboring state—would demonstrate the intentions and capabilities
of the White House.
easing of any component of U.S. sanctions, whether over the attack on
in response to Moscow’s
interference in America’s elections, would be viewed as a victory
in the Kremlin. Moreover, linking sanctions with any potential
cooperation in combating ISIS is a self-defeating strategy. It
assumes that Moscow seeks to combat anti-Western jihadism,
in reality the Kremlin fans Islamist terrorism to distract the White
House from its own international ambitions.
condemnation of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine by Nikki
ambassador to the United Nations, underscored that sanctions imposed
for the annexation of Crimea will remain in place until Moscow
withdraws from the peninsula. Less clear is whether additional
sanctions enforced for the proxy war in the Donbas could be eased or
whether the White House views these as part of the same package.
addition, the U.S. Treasury Department’s decision to
ease some sanctions applied by the Obama administration in
retaliation for Kremlin interference in the U.S. elections could
prove counterproductive. By allowing U.S. companies to conduct
transactions with the FSB, the spy agency will calculate that it has
a freer hand for further subversive operations. Putin
may well be tempted to further test the Trump team to see how much
advantage he can gain without any consequential U.S. resistance.
indeed the lifting of economic sanctions is intended to help U.S.
business, then Washington needs to include strict conditions to
protect its long-term interests. Such linkage provides an opportunity
for Trump to stamp his authority and demonstrate his potency in any
deal making with Russia. Without clear markers for the Kremlin, the
White House will again find itself floundering when Putin decides to
escalate his international offensives.
sanctions are softened, the United States should demand corresponding
concessions by Russia to test Putin’s sincerity in honoring
bilateral deals. For instance, removing Russian companies from the
sectoral sanctions list, which were added after the attack on Donbas,
can be linked with Ukraine regaining full control of its eastern
border with Russia. Such commitments must be closely monitored and
verified. Several similar deals could be made to restore Ukraine’s
territorial integrity and promote a lasting ceasefire with Russia.
the same time, in order to underscore America’s firmness, the arms
embargo on Ukraine needs to be lifted. Kyiv should be allowed to gain
lethal defensive weapons, thus overturning the mistaken Obama
approach that weakened Ukraine’s self-defenses and encouraged
Russia’s incursions. A key part of any emerging Trump doctrine
should guarantee every U.S. ally and partner the right to defend itself
from outside aggression, thus lessening the need for future American
targeted financial sanctions imposed on Moscow have contributed to
the downturn in the Russian economy and damaged the performance of
some major state companies. If sanctions were to be eased the
Kremlin-controlled oil and gas industry would find it easier to
access foreign financing. Although lifting sanctions will not reverse
Russia’s economic deterioration, precipitated by low energy prices,
lack of diversification, absence of the rule of law, and pervasive
official corruption, they will give Putin a short-term propaganda
guard against Kremlin attempts to manipulate the new U.S. administration, a
bipartisan group of Senators have introduced new legislation that
would impose further sanctions on Russia. At a time when Moscow is
escalating its offensive in the Donbas, withdrawing sanctions would
be interpreted as a green light to further aggression, while an
additional embargo would signal that the Trump presidency is serious
in punishing warmongers.
proposed congressional sanctions are directed at Russia’s energy
sector and its civil nuclear projects. They also aim to terminate
trade in Russia’s sovereign debt and remove U.S. investment in the
privatization of state-owned assets. Although passage of this
legislation seems unlikely at this point, the fact that Congress may
consider such a bill conveys a clear warning to Moscow against
further meddling in the affairs of its neighbors or in U.S. politics.
himself should not view the proposed legislation as a challenge to
his foreign policy goals but a valuable tool that he can keep in
reserve if any deals with Putin are violated. While the new U.S. President portrays himself as an artful deal-maker, he must remember
that the Kremlin is notorious as a serial deal-breaker.
Europe's Edge is an online journal covering crucial topics in the transatlantic policy debate. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the Center for European Policy Analysis.