De­ci­pher­ing sanc­tions

Here’s what the new U.S. bill and Putin’s re­sponse to it mean

Los Angeles Times - - NEWS - By Melissa Ete­had melissa.ete­had@la­

U.S. re­la­tions with Rus­sia were at an all-time low dur­ing the last few months of Pres­i­dent Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion sig­naled that it hoped for bet­ter re­la­tions with the Krem­lin.

But ten­sions have only got­ten worse.

Congress over­whelm­ingly ap­proved a bill last week to im­pose new sanc­tions against Rus­sia, which the White House has said the pres­i­dent will sign. In re­sponse, Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin an­nounced Sun­day that the U.S. diplo­matic mis­sion in Rus­sia would have to dra­mat­i­cally cut its staff.

Here is a look at the new sanc­tions bill and what Rus­sia’s re­sponse means for re­la­tions be­tween the two pow­ers.

What will the bill do?

The bill adds new sanc­tions on Rus­sia’s defense and in­tel­li­gence sec­tors aimed at mak­ing it more dif­fi­cult for the coun­try to ex­port weapons, ex­perts said.

It also tar­gets Rus­sia’s en­ergy sec­tor by giv­ing the U.S. the abil­ity to sanc­tion com­pa­nies in­volved in de­vel­op­ing Rus­sia’s en­ergy ex­port pipe­lines. The move drew heavy crit­i­cism from Euro­pean in­vestors in­volved in the con­struc­tion of a nat­u­ral gas pipe­line be­tween Rus­sia and Ger­many that is known as Nord Stream 2.

The bill also lim­its the pres­i­dent’s abil­ity to scale back any sanc­tions by en­shrin­ing into law sanc­tions that Obama placed on Rus­sia in De­cem­ber for what U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies say was med­dling in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

If Pres­i­dent Trump wanted to lift sanc­tions, he would first have to get ap­proval from Congress. Ex­perts said this “con­gres­sional re­view process” is born of wor­ries that Trump would try to act uni­lat­er­ally.

“The mo­ti­va­tion for this part is to con­strain Trump and to make sure he isn’t able to strike some grand bar­gain with Putin,” said Daniel Treis­man, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at UCLA. “It is highly un­usual to give the pres­i­dent no lee­way to re­move sanc­tions. But he still has con­sid­er­able free­dom to de­ter­mine how to en­force sanc­tions.”

The bill also in­cludes sanc­tions against Iran and North Korea tar­get­ing their re­spec­tive ef­forts to de­velop mis­siles. In fact, the bill was orig­i­nally cre­ated to ap­ply pres­sure on these two coun­tries. Rus­sia was added only later.

How did Putin re­spond?

Rus­sia started ex­press­ing con­cern about this bill in June when a group of bi­par­ti­san sen­a­tors agreed to add Rus­sia. Putin an­nounced the re­tal­ia­tory mea­sures Sun­day af­ter it be­came clear that Trump would have lit­tle choice po­lit­i­cally but to sign the bill.

Putin an­nounced that the U.S. would have to re­duce its em­bassy and con­sulate staff by 755 em­ploy­ees, bring­ing the to­tal down to 455, the same num­ber of diplo­matic staff that Rus­sia has in the U.S. The cuts are to take ef­fect Sept. 1.

The Rus­sian For­eign Min­istry also said it seized two Amer­i­can diplo­matic prop­er­ties: one on the out­skirts of Mos­cow and the other a ware­house fa­cil­ity in the city.

Ex­perts said that Rus­sia’s tit for tat sug­gests that the Krem­lin un­der­stands that Trump will not undo the penal­ties that Obama im­posed on Rus­sia for elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence, in­clud­ing the re­moval of 35 sus­pected Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tives from the U.S. and sanc­tions on Rus­sia’s two lead­ing in­tel­li­gence ser­vices.

“Putin is kind of giv­ing up hope,” said Robert Kahn, a se­nior fel­low at the Wash­ing­ton-based Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions. “It shows his un­hap­pi­ness and that he’s giv­ing up on progress with the ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

The U.S. gov­ern­ment has not said how many of the 755 em­ploy­ees are crit­i­cal to main­tain­ing the U.S. mis­sion in Rus­sia. The U.S. diplo­matic staff in Rus­sia in­cludes U.S. cit­i­zens as well as lo­cally hired Rus­sians who hold a va­ri­ety of jobs, in­clud­ing drivers, trans­la­tors, in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy spe­cial­ists and sec­re­taries.

An­a­lysts said that the ma­jor­ity of the cuts are likely to be Rus­sian em­ploy­ees of the U.S. Em­bassy in Mos­cow and con­sulates in the Rus­sian cities of St. Peters­burg, Vladi­vos­tok and Yeka­ter­in­burg.

Al­though Rus­sia’s an­nounce­ment is an ag­gres­sive re­sponse to the new sanc­tions, an­a­lysts said it could have gone fur­ther and could eas­ily be re­versed. The cuts are also likely to hurt Rus­sians.

“Rus­sians are go­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence longer de­lays in get­ting visas to come to the U.S.,” Treis­man said. “And hun­dreds of Rus­sians are likely to lose jobs” at the em­bassies and con­sulates.

What does Putin’s re­sponse mean for U.S.-Rus­sia re­la­tions?

Putin hoped that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion would usher in an era of friend­lier U.S. and Rus­sia re­la­tions. The month be­fore Trump took of­fice, then­na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor Michael Flynn had dis­cussed the sanc­tions is­sue with Sergey Kislyak, Rus­sia’s then-am­bas­sador to Wash­ing­ton.

Af­ter Putin’s lat­est an­nounce­ment, many peo­ple have drawn com­par­isons to the Cold War era, when in the 1980s the U.S. and Rus­sia or­dered cuts in diplo­matic staff and ex­pul­sions.

But an­a­lysts said the sit­u­a­tions are dif­fer­ent be­cause the num­ber of cuts is far lower that those made dur­ing the Cold War.

With Rus­sia’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion sched­uled for 2018, an­a­lysts said Putin was hop­ing to run on a plat­form of bet­ter­ing the econ­omy and rein­te­grat­ing Rus­sia into the world. This sanc­tions bill, how­ever, will make that more dif­fi­cult.

Maxim Shipenkov Associated Press

RUS­SIAN Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, at a pa­rade in St. Peters­burg on Sun­day, an­nounced the re­tal­ia­tory mea­sures af­ter it be­came clear that Pres­i­dent Trump would have lit­tle choice but to sign the U.S. sanc­tions bill.

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