Sanctions exacerbate US-Russia divide

By Feng Shaolei Source:Global Times Published: 2017/9/10 21:38:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT


During the 2016 US presidential election, it was predicted that US-Russian relations would be the most eye-catching segment of international politics in 2017. This was later proved to be true when US sanctions against Russia went into effect.

To date, there are many people who still don't understand why Russia's alleged intervention in the 2016 US election could lead to the serious regression of US-Russian relations. It seems that Russian hackers' alleged intervention in the presidential election and US President Donald Trump's possible collusion with Russia have overshadowed any possible impact they may have actually had. 

On July 25, the US Congress passed by majority a bill for a new round of sanctions against Russia. Then, on August 2, Trump signed the bill, dealing a heavy blow to US-Russian relations. These moves, whose emphasis was more politically motivated than anything else, are highly likely to have severe political repercussions.

The unprecedented domestic political chaos the US is experiencing is another important reason that US sanctions were implemented against Russia.

For US establishment forces, passing a Russia sanctions bill will limit Trump's power to realize his political desire to improve US-Russian relations. This stance on Russia may be the only position which can unite the Democratic and Republican parties to work against Trump. 

The abrupt transformation of US international relations is another factor that led to sanctions against Russia. The US' long-lasting involvement in regional wars, the rift between the US and its allies and the US' unstable international status have all had a huge impact on US foreign policies.

In addition, Russia's strong tit-for-tat stance on a series of important issues has attracted the attention of the US government.

US-Russia sanctions have shown some unprecedented characteristics.

First, the latest US sanctions against Russia have been far stronger than anything the US has done in the past. They have involved sanctions against not only companies, national institutes and officials, but also officials' family members and personal relations. It is not too much to say that the sanctions target the whole of Russian President Vladimir Putin's regime.

Second, these sanctions rank Russia, North Korea and Iran at the same level, which is apparently intended to humiliate Russia. European and US companies with business ties to Russia have also been targeted, which means that sanctions have expanded to crack down on Russia's Western partners.

Third, while the US took a tough stance against Russia, for a period of time Russia remained restrained, perhaps hoping that tolerance could help alleviate the situation. Even after the Barack Obama administration expelled Russian diplomats, Putin still invited all children of American diplomats accredited in Russia to celebrate the New Year and the Russian Orthodox Christmas with him at the Kremlin. However, under increasing pressure from the US, Russian officials complained that the US had seriously hurt Russia's dignity. The US offered political support for Boris Yeltsin during the 1996 Russian presidential election and the US involvement in the politics of countries that used to be under Russia's sphere of influence was an important background of the Ukraine crisis.

Fourth, the political divide among the leadership within the US caused by its sanctions against Russia is not likely to heal anytime soon. For example, judging from the statement Trump made when signing the Russia sanctions bill, he said he would not bow to Congress on issues such as the president's diplomatic powers.

It remains to be seen to what extent the latest sanctions will affect Russian politics and the country's economy. On the one hand, sanctions have substantial influence on Russia when it comes to areas such as financing, the introduction of high-tech, foreign trade and energy cooperation. On the other hand, the Russian economy relies very much on its own resources, which means that US sanctions are limited in how much damage they can do to Russia. Additionally, Russia is a country that can fight back when faced with difficult situations. So it is not highly likely that Russia will surrender in the face of these sanctions.

Given that US sanctions against Russia involve many complicated factors, US-Russian relations are likely to remain at a low point for a long period of time, which is sure to deeply influence the international political landscape in the future.

The author is director of the Center for Russian Studies at East China Normal University.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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