On March 2, 2021, the Biden administration imposed sanctions against Russia for the alleged poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Officials from the Biden administration justified the sanctions against Russia on the grounds that they would send a “strong message” to authoritarian countries such as China and Russia that they can’t violate human rights without some form of punishment from the international community.
Throughout late January up until early February, huge protests in favor of Navalny swept across Russia as he returned to the country after his alleged poisoning. The protests increased in magnitude after Navalny was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for violating the terms of his parole.
However, they’ve tapered off ever since despite all the media hype that the Putin government was on the ropes. Now, the West is turning to sanctions to express their disapproval with the Russian government’s actions.
“We join the EU in condemning Alexei Navalny’s poisoning as well as his arrest and imprisonment by the Russian government,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen remarked.
Under these new sanctions, Russia will continue to be prohibited from receiving any form of financial aid from all U.S. government agencies for at least a year. A press release published by the State Department detailed Russia’s bio-chemical weapons program that was allegedly deployed against Navalny:
“Today, the Secretary of State determined that the government of the Russian Federation has used a chemical weapon against its own nationals”, the release highlighted. “As a result, the following sanctions will be imposed: Denial to Russia of any credit, credit guarantees, or other financial assistance by any department, agency, or instrumentality of the United States government, including the Export-Import Bank of the United States.”
In addition, other parties were subject to sanctions as detailed below:
Senior administration officials, speaking to reporters on a conference call, said the sanctions also include export controls on 14 parties — nine Russian, three German and one Swiss, and three Russian government research institutes, most of which are believed to be involved in the production of chemical and biological agents.
According to Reuters, the following officials were subject to sanctions: “Among those blacklisted by the Treasury were Andrei Yarin, the chief of the Kremlin’s domestic policy directorate; Alexander Bortnikov, the Director of the Federal Security Service (FSB); and deputy ministers of defense Alexei Krivoruchko and Pavel Popov, among others, according to a statement.”
As for the EU sanctions, “high profile individuals” were targeted. Some of these sanctions include travel bans against several notable Russian security officials who also had their European assets frozen
It’s curious how fanatically obsessed some members of the foreign policy community are with Russia. The country is nowhere near in strength as its Soviet predecessor, which was a veritable superstate and a legitimate geopolitical rival to the U.S.
Sadly, post-Soviet collapse policy with Russia has been counterproductive. Take for example North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) expansion. The U.S. originally promised not to expand NATO and bring it to Russia’s western border. However, it has reneged on its promises by growing the original 12 members, and bringing the overall total NATO member count to 30, which features a number of ex-Soviet bloc countries.
This has made Russia become more assertive in foreign policy matters, with it showing in the case of Georgia (2008) and Ukraine (2014) its desire to protect national security interests in its traditional sphere of influence.
The U.S. refuses to recognize the fact that Russia is a great power with its own interests that should ultimately be respected and not interfered with. At the same time, Russia is no superpower with very little ability or interest to project power in the U.S.’s backyard. In sum, it does not pose much of a threat.
However, many foreign policy officials want to remake the world in America’s image, consequences be damned. One potentially dire consequence of the U.S. overplaying its hand with Russia is the potential for the Eurasian power to fall into China’s orbit.
China is an emerging great power with hegemonic intentions and questionable economic and espionage practices that undermine the U.S. Having Russia pushed into a coalition with China could get really messy for an overzealous U.S.
In an ideal world, the U.S. would try to seek a rapprochement with Russia — no interference in its domestic affairs, no NATO expansion, and debilitating sanctions — and try to use it to balance China. The Cold War is over and we need a new style of thinking for foreign affairs.