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U.S. Imposes Fresh Round of Sanctions on Russia

On April 15, the Biden administration imposed a fresh round of sanctions on Russia. Experts from the Wilson Center’s Kennan institute share their analysis.

Explore the Analysis from Our Experts

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    “The introduction of new, tough US sanctions shortly after the first Biden-Putin phone call has sent a clear signal to Moscow that the U.S. side sees only very limited space for dialogue, will not prioritize trust-building, and will continue to rely on deterrence – via sanctions and greater commitment to its European allies– as the main vehicle for constraining Russian foreign policy ambitions.  The success of this approach – which has not been tried since Reagan era -  remains uncertain.  Unlike Gorbachev,  Putin sees no reason to seek a compromise with the “declining” (in his world view) West and he will continue to pursue a closer alliance with China to counter the U.S. pressure.”

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    “It's heartening to see the Biden administration impose a highly comprehensive round of sanctions against the Russian government for its continued disregard for the rules-based international order. The measures target Russian election interference, cybercrime, and human rights abuses, in a week that the world has been watching an unprecedented Russian troop buildup on Ukraine's border. The message from Biden to Putin is: the United States is watching. The administration wants stable, predictable relations with Russia, but it's Russia that has the ability to halt its malign activities and make that happen. Otherwise, these punitive measures will continue to mount.”

  • “Financial sanctions should identify a specific behavior or action that is unacceptable, provide a clear off-ramp, and clearly suggest space for escalation. Today's U.S. sanctions against Russian activities follow the same pattern as the many previous rounds -- significant but not debilitating and on a variety of issues representing a broad swath of Russian foreign policy -- and are unlikely to change Russian behavior in any substantive sense because the off-ramp suggested by the sanctions run into the giant problem of Russian domestic politics. Were Putin to stop the sanctioned behaviors, that would then identify the limits of Russia's foreign policy activities and would harm President Putin's nearly unlimited ability to exercise power at home by demonstrating that a foreign policy is able to dictate to Putin, and thus Russia, what is and is not acceptable. Therefore, US expectations should focus more narrowly on more subtle acceptance or rejection of today's sanctions: will Putin react emotionally and negatively to President Biden's first round of sanctions and scuttle the mooted summit between the two presidents -- the main prize for recently escalating tensions with Ukraine -- or does he take these sanctions in stride?

    As a guide for the future, today's sanctions represent the US government identifying much more explicitly than before an emphasis on defining and attributing Russian intelligence operations, both cyber operations narrowly defined such as the SolarWinds hack, but also influence operations and so-called active measures meant to distort the political debate within the United States. They also raise a new area of sanctions activity by prohibiting US financial institutions from purchasing new sovereign debt by the Russian Central Bank, Finance Ministry, or National Welfare Fund (sovereign wealth fund) issued after June 14, 2021. Also notable were the activities or targets not in this current round: anything regarding Alexey Navalny, Nord Stream 2, high-level political officials or oligarchic supporters of Putin, or, perhaps most significantly, sanctions regarding the purchase of Russian sovereign debt on the secondary market or upon state-owned companies. These are the areas and targets that will be kept in reserve to shape the US-Russia relationship over the coming months and years.”

Kennan Institute

The Kennan Institute is the premier U.S. center for advanced research on Russia and Eurasia and the oldest and largest regional program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Kennan Institute is committed to improving American understanding of Russia, Ukraine, and the region through research and exchange.  Read more