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A Heavy Lift
No Sanctions Relief in Sight for Russia

Russia may be waiting quite a while for sanctions relief, if the U.S. Senate has anything to say about it. Reuters:

The top Republican and Democrat on the U.S. Senate Banking Committee both said on Wednesday that sanctions imposed on Russia over its involvement in Ukraine must not be lifted without drastic changes by Russia.

Senator Mike Crapo, the panel’s Republican chairman, said reducing sanctions could encourage Moscow to continue aggressive actions, three years after it annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region.

Senator Sherrod Brown, the ranking Democrat, said the panel should look at increasing sanctions. […]

“We should strengthen, not weaken, Russian sanctions, and the president must work with Congress on a Russia policy that is clear-eyed about our adversaries and their behavior,” Brown said in his opening statement at the hearing.

Anyone still anticipating a speedy end to the Russian sanctions regime must face up to the political realities on display here: there is currently no appetite for sanctions relief on either side of the aisle, and each party can make the argument for sanctions in a way that’s politically self-serving.

For Democrats, the sanctions debate is a chance to defend an Obama policy, play up the politically damaging allegations about Trump’s ties to Russia, and amplify fears that he would roll back sanctions. Senator Elizabeth Warren, one of the Senate’s most high-profile Democrats, argued exactly along these lines during Wednesday’s hearing, concluding with a call for legislation providing Congressional oversight of any White House attempt to roll back sanctions.

For Republicans—traditionally the more hawkish party on Moscow—the sanctions debate allows an opportunity to criticize Obama’s sanctions for failing to deter Putin’s behavior, while pushing a more aggressive approach. Republican Senators John Kennedy and Ben Sasse, for example, both argued on Wednesday that the U.S. should explore additional sanctions directly targeting the illicit assets of Putin and top Kremlin cronies.

This is hardly the situation Russians lawmakers anticipated as they cheered Trump’s election from the floor of the State Duma. And despite a concerted effort by the Russia lobby to sway Congress toward a more friendly stance, the opposite seems to be happening, with the Trump-Russia controversy only deepening skepticism about a reset on Capitol Hill. Even if Trump wanted to pursue far-reaching rapprochement with Moscow—a questionable assumption, given his early actions—the current word from the Hill suggests he will have his hands tied.

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  • Andrew Allison

    It’s becoming increasingly clear that US voters are electing grandstanding idiots, e.g. anybody who pretends to think there’s a snowflakes chance in hell of Crimea being returned to Ukraine, to Congress.

    • D4x

      Give the grandstanding Russo-phobes a few more days, or weeks, to realize that Crimea is the smallest price to pay if Russia does something serious about Hezbollah’s underground tunnel factories for manufacturing rockets and missiles in Southern Lebanon.

      Assuming this ever gets any echo:

      • Andrew Allison

        Now there’s an interesting digression. Somehow, I think that Israel (an undeclared nuclear power, lest we forget), is well aware of Hezbollah’s activities, and more than willing to do something about it should it prove necessary.

        • D4x

          That URL lays out Israel’s plan, and pre-emptive air strikes intended to pound Lebanon to the Stone Age with collateral damage is included. The GOP is fiercely pro-Israel, hence my thought that the author’s conclusion on Trump-Putin rapprochement is way too premature. Of course, my implicit bias on such rapprochement has always been to get Hezbollah’s missile launchers out of Southern Lebanon by actually enforcing UNSC Res 1701 from 2006. Not Syria.

          McCain was just re-elected. No way he is going anywhere, not as long as he chairs the Senate Armed Services Ctte. POTUS should make peace, for what he said about McCain during the primaries.

          • Andrew Allison

            I beg to differ. POTUS should tell McCain that he has his head where the Sun doesn’t shine and get the job done.

          • D4x

            POTUS knows he needs Congress, and is doing a fine job of hosting.

            The USNavy is a serious part of POTUS’ plan.

            Xi chose death before dishonor.

          • f1b0nacc1

            The Israelis are well aware of what would happen if another rocket war gets started with Lebanon, and they are highly unlikely to repeat the mistakes of ten years ago. Some of the new technologies (particularly in missile defense) will blunt the effectiveness of what Hezbollah has in mind, and the IDF has radically altered their tactics and training to avoid what happened the last time around. It is important to remember that while underground tunnels and factories for rockets do exist (heck, they exist in Gaza, a much more challenging environment), most of them are building short-ranged rockets, the sort that Iron Dome already handles reasonably well. The longer ranged stuff must be imported (even if it is only in pieces), and can be tracked relatively reliably. Those systems are vulnerable to air strikes and interception (David’s Sling is now online, and a few other surprises await….), and while there will be damage,the sort of missile armageddon predicted by some simply isn’t in the cards.

            Yes McCain was just reelected, but his health is not particularly good….

          • D4x

            We’ll see. 100,000 rockets and missiles without underground factories to build more should have been enough for Hezbollah. Israel’s rules of engagement will no longer be constrained by anyone in D.C., which might be enough deterrence. Might all depend on how Russia sees Hezbollah in Lebanon.

          • f1b0nacc1

            The overwhelmingly majority of those rockets (roughly 95% or so) are short ranged, unguided, and of dubious reliability, very similar to what we have seen in Gaza. These are just one step up from mortar rounds, and they are typically what those underground factories are turning out. Good to make you feel like you are striking back, unlikely to do very much damage.

            Your point regarding Israeli ROE is especially apt. I suspect that throughout the middle east, the rules for dealing with these animals is about to change, and change VERY radically.

          • D4x

            Perhaps NorK has transmitted their designs for precision guided missiles to Hezbollah. Last two IAF bombings of Hamas tunnels were to stop such missiles being smuggled in from Libya via Sinai.

            The al-monitor report does not include that, but I did read a different report that detailed what Hezbollah is making in S Lebanon – much more sophisticated. That source too hard to find today.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Nork ‘precision-guided’ anything is such a misnomer that I have to laugh…. Why would Hezbollah (which has an excellent relationship already with Iran) want to start buying from a group of loons with a very bad record of weapon reliability, particularly the high-tech stuff? Now Iran might buy from the Norks (they almost certainly do, particularly for long-range systems that they – the Persians – cannot test themselves), but direct sales to their clients? not bloody likely.

            Regarding the IAF bombings to stop weapons shipments, those were most likely Iranian or (much more likely) Russian weapons being cross-shipped to the Iranians, though some remote possibility exists that the Russians would be selling directly to Assad. It makes little sense though for the Russians to be too deeply involved, as they are trying to keep good relations with the Israelis, and avoid having them break up the delicate web of diplomacy and military support that they are using to try to rebuild their influence in the region.

          • D4x

            We must be reading different sources on IAF bombings, NorK missiles to Gaza, and Hezbollah.

          • D4x

   has very good news from Israel/ME: “Report: Iran Built Underground Weapons Factories for Hezbollah in Lebanon by BICOM | 03.14.17 2:05 pm


            “Iran established underground weapon-making factories in Lebanon to help Hezbollah internally develop its arsenal, a Kuwaiti newspaper reported Monday.

            The al-Jarida newspaper reported that a deputy head of the
            Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps has disclosed the existence of the underground facilities, which have been operating for the past three months. The factories can allegedly produce rockets and missiles with a range of more than 500 kilometers, land-based anti-ship missiles, anti-tank missiles, armored vehicles, and drones capable of carrying explosives.

            The underground facilities were constructed after Israel bombed an Iranian weapons depot in Sudan and several convoys transferring
            weapons from Syria to Hezbollah during the past several years, according to al-Jarida. The factories in Lebanon were reportedly built over 160 feet underground in order to protect them from Israeli aerial attack.

            The facilities produce separate components of weapons, which
            are then transferred to be assembled into entire weapons elsewhere. The report alleges that Hezbollah has already tested weapons made in the underground facilities during the Syrian civil war, where it fights alongside President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

            Israel believes that Hezbollah has an arsenal of around 100,000 rockets at its disposal with a range covering all of Israel. Israeli
            military officials also recently estimated around 10,000 Hezbollah positions, including infrastructure and armaments placed within around 200 villages and towns along the Israeli border.

            On Monday, Israel’s Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz warned that Iran is attempting to increase its influence in Syria to threaten Israel, citing last week’s establishment of an Iranian-backed Shi’ite militia called the “Golan Liberation Brigade.”

            Katz said, “The so called ‘Golan Liberation Brigade’ sharpens the threat posed by the presence of Iran and Hezbollah in Syria in
            general and on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights in particular.”

            Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Moscow last week and told Russia’s President Vladimir Putin that Israel would
            not tolerate an increased Iranian foothold on the Syrian border.”

            (via BICOM)

          • f1b0nacc1

            The “100,000 rockets” include about 95-98000 short range unguided rockets (similar to the Katyushas from WWII, or the BM-12, 21, etc. from postwar Russia) and a very small number of larger, longer-ranged ones. Yes, if you take the 100K as a whole, some of that total is very dangerous, most are not. Don’t mistake me, I am not pooh-poohing this threat, Iron Dome is important for a reason, but there is a huge amount of Threat Inflation that goes on here on both sides….

          • D4x

            This has not sounded like Threat Inflation – too much evidence, but I defer to your expertise: “Israel’s Arrow scores first operational hit — but against what? By: Barbara Opall-Rome, March 17, 2017

            TEL AVIV — In the aftermath of Israel’s early Friday morning airstrikes against Hezbollah targets in Syria, the country’s Arrow anti-ballistic missile scored its first operational intercept — but against what, experts here are asking?

            What is known of this unusual story is this: Israel’s Super Green Pine radar — part of the joint U.S.-Israel Arrow weapon system — detected a threat and launched an Arrow 2 interceptor against its first operational target. Evidence of this is clear from the Israeli Home Front alarm sounded throughout the southern environs of
            Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley; as well as pieces of the Arrow 2 rocket engine found and photographed in Jordan.

            A more likely scenario, several experts here said, is that the Syrian regime was so incensed by yet another successful Israeli air attack on its soil that it fired off a Scud-type ballistic missile to make a point. Perhaps their point was to warn Israel against future incursions into its territory.

            Or, in light of last week’s meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin aimed at coordinating strategic interests and actions in Syria, perhaps Damascus felt the need to protest too much clarity between its Russian patron and its Israeli enemy.”


          • f1b0nacc1

            My understanding of the incident is that the Syrians fired off several of their rather long-ranged SAMs (older ones), which when they lost tracking, went into ballistic mode. This happened often enough during the Vietnam War (my oldest brother, who flew B-52s, used to describe the SAM-2s as ‘flying telephone poles’), where the Vietnamese bet on the very large warhead size of the missile to at least to some damage in an unguided mode. The Israelis may have seen this as an excellent opportunity to demonstrate just what the Arrow 3 could do in an operational setting.

            Also, as a very minor point…it is “Magnificent Pine”, not “Super Green Pine” radar….

          • D4x

            “Israelis may have seen this as an excellent opportunity to demonstrate just what the Arrow 3 could do in an operational setting”, while simultaneously getting Russia’s attention on Hezbollah in Syria and Lebanon…a major issue for Israel which appears to have needed another ‘look’ after Netanyahu’s visit with Putin March 9.

            Too difficult to keep track of the timeline on this!

          • f1b0nacc1

            The Syrians likely provided the opportunity for the Arrow launch, by using their SAM-5s so poorly. I would be a bit suspicious about there being much other than simple opportunism here, but of course I could be wrong….

        • D4x

          Caspit’s post at al-monitor on Israel v Hezbollah’s underground missile factories in S. Lebanon is linked at RealClearWorld this morning, which will definitely get some echo. What kind of echo tbd.

      • f1b0nacc1

        The Russians will collect on the bills for their help to the Assads with military bases and ongoing influence, but the Iranians have boots on the ground and much, much bigger ambitions. I don’t see the Russians being able to do much about Hezbollah (and Iranian catspaw, lets remember) unless they decisively defeat Iran in the postwar Syrian reshuffle, something I think is highly unlikely.

        As for John and Cindy, only if the chef is a Borgia…

        • D4x

          Not about to read Russia’s mind on anything, but do believe they do not want Hezbollah threatening Israel, and Lebanon might figure into a Russian plan. We’ll see.

          Borgia? That’s cold.

  • That’s your Sen. Geriatric McCain who got mad at Rand the other day and quipped “maybe he works for Putin” because Rand opposes letting the micro state of Montenegro into NATO. McCain Lost track of time somewhere around 1970, and still believes there’s a Russian under every bed.

    • Andrew Allison

      Yup, it’s clear that McCain is senile. His past service to the coutry is beyond reproach, but it’s time for him to recognize that it’s time for him to go. Senator McCain has, regretfully, become a poster boy for term limits or mandatory retirement.

      • Why is it beyond reproach? He’s spent many more years trying to send young men into harms way than the few years he was a prisoner. And I don’t think war heroes get captured and beat up. War heroes fight to the death and if they give the ultimate sacrifice for their cause then that’s really honorable. Being a prisoner means he threw down his gun and put his hands in the air and got blindfolded and became a liability to divulge information.

        • Andrew Allison

          I think that you are being unreasonable. The first duty of the military is to live to fight another day. No argument that he’s gone off the rails, but , as I wrote, that McCain has done more personally for his country that most (all?) of the US Congress.

          • D4x

            Just had to post how McCain was captured. Yes, currently, he has his own agenda, but the truth is still beyond comprehension that he even survived his plane crash..

          • Andrew Allison

            As I was saying . . . .

        • D4x

          “…McCain’s plane went into a vertical inverted spin.[111] McCain bailed out upside down at high speed;[112] the force of the ejection fractured his right arm in three places, his left arm, and his right leg at the knee, and knocked him unconscious.[112][113] McCain nearly drowned after parachuting into Trúc Bạch Lake in Hanoi; the weight of his equipment was pulling him down, and as he regained consciousness, he could not use his arms.[106] Eventually, he was able to inflate his life vest using his teeth.[106] Several Vietnamese, possibly led by Department of Industry clerk Mai Van On, pulled him ashore.[114] A mob gathered around, spat on him, kicked him, and stripped him of his clothes; his left shoulder was crushed with the butt of a rifle and he was bayoneted in his left foot and abdominal area.[106][112][113] He was then transported to Hanoi’s main Hỏa Lò Prison, nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton” by American POWs.[115]

          McCain reached Hỏa Lò in as bad a physical condition as any prisoner during the war.[115] His captors refused to give him medical care unless he gave them military information; they beat and interrogated him, but McCain only offered his name, rank, serial number, and date of birth[116][117] (the only information he was required to provide under the Geneva Conventions and permitted to give under the U.S. Code of Conduct).[105] Soon thinking he was near death, McCain said he would give them more information if taken to the hospital,[116] hoping he could then put his interrogators off once he was treated.[118] A prison doctor came and said it was too late, as McCain was about to die anyway.[116] Only when the North Vietnamese discovered that his father was a high-ranking admiral did they give him medical care …”

          • To both of you. Yeah I don’t care about any of that. I believe he should’ve killed himself and kept his honor…he didn’t fight another day lol. He was a liability and a bargaining chip. I hate the japs but I respect their preference to fight the machine gunner with a rock and get buried by a bulldozer the next day after the banzai charge.

          • Josephbleau

            Sorry, but your attitude doe not sound realistic or sane to me.

  • Charles Martel

    Partisan paranoia on one side and knee-jerk hawkish instincts on the other combine to make sensible Russia policy nearly impossible. A stable, polite relationship with a major nuclear power would be highly desirable – especially as American and Russian interests are not terribly misaligned. Despite Hillary’s reset, Obama tried to play hardball with Moscow – deceiving Russia over Libya and meddling in their near abroad by assisting in the defenestration of the legitimate (and pro-Russian) president of Ukraine. Obama got burned. There is no point in defending Obama’s honor by insisting on the return of Crimea, which is an unrealistic demand. Leaving Russian relations in an aggressive and unbalanced state is exceedingly unwise.

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