U.S. Hits Russia with More Sanctions

The U.S. yesterday expanded its sanction regime to include 26 more individuals and entities, keeping pressure on the country over its continued aggression in Ukraine. The Hill reports:

Under four separate executive orders, the Treasury Department on Wednesday designated and identified former officials and close associates of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s regime, people working in Russia’s defense sector and entities in Crimea, which the U.S. says Russia illegally annexed last year.

John E. Smith, the director of the Treasury office that issued the sanctions, said in a statement that these actions underscore the Obama administration’s effort to “maintain pressure on Russia for violating international law and fueling the conflict in eastern Ukraine.”

Russia is already in a fine economic pickle due to plummeting oil prices, and the sanctions certainly aren’t helping at the margins. But are they actually deterring Vladimir Putin? Counterfactuals are impossible to prove, but as Leon Aron argued in our pages earlier this week, Putin is both likely to be impervious to the effects of sanctions in the short or even medium term, and is likely to feel the burn down the road if and when he is forced to make choices between bailing out key sectors of the economy and paying the pensions of his so far supportive citizens. So we’re playing waiting game: Who will blink first?

The EU will once again become the focus of speculation come January. Sanctions are supposed to remain in place as long as the Minsk protocol remains only partially implemented, but they come up for review once again at the end of that month. With violence flaring daily in Ukraine (despite U.S. efforts to compel the Ukrainians to grant additional autonomy to the breakaway regions via constitutional reform), the likelihood of full compliance by then seems vanishingly small. Nevertheless, we’re once again seeing German businesses complaining that they’re bearing the brunt of the costs of a sanctions regime that’s ultimately very porous. Will Germany’s resolve to keep punishing Putin last through the winter? That’s a question Vladimir himself is sure to be pondering as he thinks about how to drive a wedge between Western nations that are putting up a not-so-united front.

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