Sanctions fail to curb Moscow’s violence

AP-Evgeniy Maloletka
People walk with bicycles past apartments buildings destroyed by shelling in Chernihiv, Ukraine, Thursday, April 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

Biden administration officials this week warned the conflict in Ukraine is likely to be protracted as Russia shifts its strategy, underscoring the degree to which international sanctions have failed to stop the Russian invasion or force Moscow to reverse course.

President Biden disputed during a trip to Brussels late last month that sanctions were meant to deter Russia from invading Ukraine. Still, the U.S. and allies have continued to impose them in hopes that they will make Russia an international pariah and increase pressure on the Kremlin and Russian economy over time.

“I think that we need to have patience and perspective when it comes to the impacts on Russia of this unprecedented and crippling sanctions regime that we have now put in place,” National Economic Council Director Brian Deese told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor event.

“And we need patience and perspective. The president has been saying this from day one that the reason why we have spent, invested so much time in building a coalition and maintaining and sustaining a coalition around these sanctions steps … is that the impact of sanctions operate across time,” Deese added.

The Biden administration has been steadily rolling out sanctions alongside allies for the past six weeks, dating back to when Russia launched its full-scale invasion into Ukraine. 

Since then, the U.S. has targeted major Russian banks, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his children, Russian oil imports, dozens of Russian oligarchs, and Moscow’s ability to borrow money in an effort to cripple the economy and squeeze those closest to Putin who might urge him to end the invasion.

The president and his team have repeatedly pointed to the coordinated nature of the sanctions, arguing the world is united in making Russia a pariah.

“I would say sanctions have a range of purposes, including putting consequences in place. And where we are, as it relates to the war in Ukraine, is also making it much more difficult for President Putin to fund this war, and that is a huge priority to us,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday.

Despite the raft of sanctions, Russia has carried on with its attacks on Ukraine, striking major cities and civilian areas such as hospitals and theaters and committing what U.S. officials have deemed war crimes.

India has continued to purchase Russian oil, and Hungary has said it would be willing to pay for Russian gas in rubles, the Russian currency.

And while the ruble cratered in value early on in the sanctions push, it has rebounded to pre-invasion levels, which U.S. officials attribute to artificial measures taken by the Kremlin to prop up the currency.

Experts and many lawmakers have praised the coordination the U.S. has been able to maintain with allies in levying sanctions. But some have suggested there are other ways the Biden administration can continue to pressure Russia or provide support to Ukraine outside letting sanctions run their course.

Brett Bruen, who served as director of global engagement in the Obama administration, called for investing in a “significant public diplomacy operation” to ensure the Russian people have access to accurate information about what’s happening in Ukraine aside from Kremlin propaganda that downplays Russian atrocities and military struggles.

Experts have also urged the Biden administration to continue funneling security assistance to Ukraine, pinpointing it as one of the most critical ways the U.S. can help Ukrainians fend off what is expected to be a dragged-out fight with Russia.

Psaki on Friday highlighted some of the aid the U.S. has provided thus far, including more than 1,400 anti-aircraft systems, 5,000 javelin anti-armor systems, hundreds of drones, thousands of smaller arms, 50,000 rounds of ammunition, laser-guided rocket systems and other equipment.

“The security assistance the Biden administration is providing to Ukraine is enabling critical success on the battlefield against the Russian invading force. The No. 1 reason they’re able to fight back is their bravery and courage,” Psaki said. “The No. 2 reason is the security assistance that we are providing and we are providing in coordination with our allies and partners.”

David Kramer, who spent three years as deputy assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs during the George W. Bush administration, said that while the Ukrainian people will continue to face tragic losses in the weeks and months to come, a protracted conflict could eventually wear down Russian forces who are reportedly suffering low morale given their military’s struggles.

Kramer noted Ukraine is getting military equipment from allies while Russia is being forced to turn to outside mercenaries willing to bolster Moscow’s forces. And sanctions over time should continue to shrink the Russian economy and its ability to fund its invasion.

“I think Ukrainians have had a number of victories, if you will, but of course there have been many Ukrainians who have paid a terrible, terrible price,” Kramer said. “And it’s all because one man decided to invade his neighbor. And I’m not sure how sustainable a Russian military operation would be over an extended period of time.”

Tags Brett Bruen Brian Deese Jen Psaki Joe Biden Joe Biden Russia sanctions Ukraine Vladimir Putin

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