International Current Affairs

The US passes new sanctions against Russia: The game of one-upmanship

The US and its NATO allies are seen as bullies by the Islamic world as well as the countries who follow a different ideology and political system (socialist or communist regimes). Cold war of post Second World War period was the outcome of this colonialist and imperial mindset and the other group led by Russia denied to be under the hegemony of US and its NATO partners. Cold war led to arms race and uncalled for conflicts, eating into lot of resources from the budget of the developed and developing countries which would have otherwise been used for development and removal of poverty. The cold war ended in 1989, but it has not changed the world much.

The US euphemistically known as Uncle Sam is in the habit of taking unilateral decisions of sanctions against the countries that do not fit into its strategic and hegemonic interests. Much has been written on that. There was a feeling in the first few years after the collapse of the erstwhile Soviet Union that a uni-polar world driven by American version of democracy and capitalism has come to stay for long. The world, nevertheless, did not remain uni-polar and capitalism- Russia again grew to be a counterforce and besides it, there is another rising power China about which the US is uncomfortable. But Russia and China are not Libiya or Egypt or Iraq; they cannot be bended on unequal terms.

New US President Donald Trump realized this and wanted to have a reconciliatory approach towards Russia and cooperation in a variety of areas for economic prosperity and peace. But his mission failed when the US Congress recently passed new sanctions against Russia.  The US House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted on July 2 to approve new sanctions on Russia, setting up a potential showdown with the White House. the House approved a bill by a 419-3 vote  that would levy new sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea. Only three libertarian-leaning Republicans – Justin Amash of Michigan, Tom Massie of Kentucky and Jimmy Duncan of Tennessee – voted against the bill in the House. Speaker of House of Representative, Paul Ryan, said after the bill passed that the sanctions package “tightens the screws on our most dangerous adversaries in order to keep Americans safe.” It will go before the Senate before Trump faces the tricky choice of whether to veto the bill, which has been opposed by the White House.


New Sanctions

Under the proposed law, sanctions would be imposed on any company contributing to the development, maintenance, modernisation of the Russian Federation’s energy infrastructure. It combines new measures targeting Russia for its interference in the 2016 election, as well as provisions intended to curb North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and Iranian militarism. The bill  includes fresh sanctions against Iran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which stands accused of supporting terrorism, and North Korea, for its missile tests.


The bill had been bogged down in controversy in recent weeks over objections from the Trump administration. The White House has been opposed to a provision in the bill that requires congressional approval for any attempt by the president to lift the sanctions on Russia. An earlier Senate version of the bill passed 98-2, but was only aimed at Russia and Iran. It did not include the measures against North Korea, which are now in the House bill. The latest bill must now return to the Senate, where it is expected to pass easily, before it is sent to Trump. Despite the White House’s opposition to the bill, it is likely to become law. Even if Trump decides to veto the legislation, it has already passed both chambers by veto-proof margins.

The legislation passed the House the same day Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, spoke to the House intelligence committee about the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. Russian interference in the 2016 election is the subject of multiple investigations – including one by special counsel Robert Mueller – as well as committees on Capitol Hill, and questions have been raised in particular about allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. The White House has vigorously denied the suggestion that there was any collusion and has repeatedly called the investigations into Russia’s role in the election “a witch hunt”.

Reaction of Russia and other countries

The Kremlin (Russia) said that the proposed new US sanctions against Russia are an extremely unfriendly act and sad news for Russia-US relations. France, Germany and the EU also criticized the sanctions amid concerns that the measures could affect European businesses. Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European commission, warned the EU would hit back “within a matter of days” if the sanctions damaged European economic interests. Juncker expressed his fury at the failure of Washington to work with the EU on the issue, saying: “America first cannot mean that Europe’s interests come last.”

Moscow has repeatedly warned the US it will retaliate against what it sees as hostile moves, and Ryabkov made clear Russia was growing tired of showing restraint. The Russian foreign ministry said this month that too many US spies operated in the country under diplomatic cover and that it might expel some of them in retaliation for Washington’s expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats last year. That warning reflected rising frustration in Moscow over the Trump administration’s refusal to hand back two Russian diplomatic compounds that were seized at the same time as the diplomats were sent home.

The particular concern in Brussels, however, is that the measures could affect a pipeline project to transport Russian gas into Germany. There are also fears that European companies would be hit for their involvement in the maintenance and upgrade of pipelines in Russia that feed the Ukraine gas transit system.

Way forward

Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European commission asserted that although the EU was  fully committed to the Russia sanctions regime, if the US fails to take the EU’s interests into account, and declare that the discretionary powers would not be used against European companies, the commission is likely to either seek arbitration at the WTO or rule the US laws as unenforceable on EU territory. He emphasized that  G7 unity on sanctions and close coordination among allies are at the heart of ensuring the full implementation of the Minsk agreements. The EU’s executive said it was raising its concerns “via all diplomatic channels with the US and its counterparts”.

Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, said Tehran would respond in kind to any breach by the US of the 2015 nuclear deal. “If the enemy steps over part of the agreement, we will do the same, and if they step over the entire deal, we will do the same too.”

Many Russian politicians believe Trump’s political opponents and Congress have reduced the US president’s room for manoeuvre on Russia to almost nil. Ryabkov told Interfax the new sanctions bill was the “brainchild” of US congressmen who hated Russia and wanted to box in Trump.

Despite initially opposing the bill, Trump appears to have few options in the face of near-total consensus in Congress. His spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said the White House was “reviewing the House legislation and awaits a final legislative package for the president’s desk”. Trump has faced accusations that his administration sought to reassure Moscow that sanctions imposed by the Obama administration dating back to the Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine could be lifted.

The final call will be taken by Donald Trump faces whether to veto the bill or allow its passage. White House has been opposing it from beginning of the new regime, if he agrees, it will be vault face. One thing is sure the world would never be uni-polar again –China and Russia would not be bended for American strategic interests and hegemony because other powers also like their existence on equal footing. America is chasing an illusion of yesteryears. The world is changing and so are the power matrices. Engagement and not conflict is the answer. If the US nurtures “America First”, which country would like to be “Second”? American voters cannot buy the world opinion by voting headstrong leaders. The promises of the campaign days are falling flat. Some of the electorates must be repenting their voting in anger and frustration.

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