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US Sanctions against Russia: The Forecast for 2018

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It must be clear that the letter and spirit of PL 115-44 define Russia in legislative terms as an adversary to the United States, which should be actively opposed and subjected to a comprehensive pressure. In fact, PL 115-44 sets the framework for US policies with regard to the Russian Federation, which to a great extent obviates opportunities for partnership and constructive cooperation. Russia should have no illusions about a reversal of course in the near future. We must also avoid underestimating the efficiency of the tools to pressure us. These trends need to be thoroughly analyzed and monitored.

So, the executive authorities will submit at least seven reports to Congress in 2018, which can be divided into three groups.

The first group includes reports drawn up mostly by the US Department of the Treasury. The U.S. Treasury is the key, if not the only, sanctions policy tool. Congress instructs the U.S. Treasury to work closely with the CIA, the Department of State and other agencies whose data may significantly expand capabilities of financial intelligence. The most expected document in this group is a report on Russian oligarchs and parastatal entities to be prepared by February 2018 and which contains a list of senior Russian political figures as well as oligarchs and entrepreneurs close to the “Russian regime.” Congress wants the submission of an assessment of the relationship between the said individuals and President Vladimir Putin or other members of the Russian ruling elite and an identification of any indices of corruption with respect to those individuals. The report should also include the estimated net worth and known sources of income of those individuals and their family members, including assets, investments, other business interests, and relevant beneficial ownership information and an identification of the non-Russian business affiliation of those individuals.

But being included in the report does not automatically mean that individuals or entities will face sanctions. Nevertheless, the Act unambiguously indicates that the report is a mechanism for their expansion. At least it is required to assess the potential impacts of imposing secondary sanctions with respect to Russian oligarchs, Russian state-owned enterprises, and Russian parastatal entities, including impacts on the entities themselves and on the economy of the Russian Federation, as well as on the economies of the United States and allies of the United States.

In theory, the report may include an unlimited number of Russian individuals and entities. But the algorithm and methodology of its compilation within so brief a timeframe is still a big question. It requires processing a huge amount of information, since, in fact, the case in point is Russia’s entire public sector. This significantly increases the risk of erroneous assessments, which may later affect the United States itself. In theory, the Americans may also choose to present a compact report that will include what they think are the most anti-Western figures. But one nicety involved is that the Act’s current wording does not imply that the report should be constantly updated and therefore the anti-Russia lobby can do what it will to expand the lists as much as possible.

The next report is to appear in February as well. It concerns opportunities for expanding sanctions against individuals or entities blacklisted by the Department of the Treasury under Presidential Executive Order No. 13662, which made it possible to impose sanctions to counteract Russian policies in Ukraine. The fine point is that the executive order imposed sanctions against Russia’s financial and energy sectors, while PL 115-44 added railways to the list, as well as the iron-and-steel and manufacturing industries. For the time being, the report is not to be expanded.

Unlike the previous two, the next report will require a longer preparatory period – until August 2018 – and is to be updated annually until 2021 (but there is nothing to prevent the timeframe from being extended). The report will concern any illicit financial transactions related to the Russian Federation or Russian nationals. It will contain data on specific violations, results of investigative actions, and outreach to the private sector to prevent these kinds of activities. Inclusion in the report involves criminal prosecution.

Importantly, it should disclose the outcome of US agencies’ cooperation with their counterparts in the EU and other countries. In other words, it internationalizes US practices. The report is also a mechanism for finding loopholes in law enforcement with regard to anti-Russia sanctions and has to include trouble-shooting proposals.

The next group is covered by the subtitle, Countering Russian Influence in Europe and Eurasia. The Act makes it incumbent on the US government to act as a protector of the sovereignty and security of all Eurasian countries that are or may become “victims” of Russian influence. The Department of State is the key agency responsible for this group. Policies in this area imply the broad use of soft power based on NGOs in the US and Eurasian countries (the Act lists some of these). The appropriations for these purposes in 2018 will add up to $250,000,000, a considerable sum given that it will be largely used for ideological and educational work rather than for infrastructure. At first glance, the money is spread across a wide spectrum of objectives and countries, such as protection of electoral infrastructure, the fight against corruption, legislative improvements, aid to NGOs and the media, and opposition to “propaganda.” However, given the low cost of these measures and their focus on countering Russia, they will become a serious source of pressure. At least this sum is much greater than Russia’s own “soft power” expenses. What’s more, Russian institutions are addressing the entire international agenda, while the West (let alone opposition to it) is not the first, nor the only target of its efforts.

PL 115-04 makes it incumbent on the State Department to report to Congress annually, including its performance, spending efficiency, and results. A separate report will cover cooperation with foreign entities and their contribution. In other words, the Americans expect that their spending should be reinforced by that of their allies in the EU and other countries. The report is due to be submitted on April 1.

The next two reports also need to be submitted annually by the US President.

The first is on the media organizations controlled and funded by the government of the Russian Federation. It is also a black list of sorts involving at least reputation effects and due to stigmatize both Russian media proper and those supported by Russia in some or other form.

The other concerns Russian Federation influence on elections in Europe and Eurasia. This is important as a tool for internationalizing the American approach to supposed Russian “electoral interference.” Unlike the United States, people in Europe and elsewhere are more or less skeptical of the US position. The annual report will make it possible to perpetuate the focus on this subject by aggregating events of any importance and prodding the related Western discourse towards the US stance.

Finally, yet another report is linked to a law on Ukrainian and other countries’ energy security interpreted as reduced reliance on Russian distribution or any ties with Russia. It is speaking about facilitation of Ukrainian energy sector reforms, the sector’s liberalization, enhanced efficiency, etc. But in the same breath it mentions counteraction to Russian energy projects (Nord Stream, etc.) and what it calls “Russian aggression.” It also says directly that the US policy should be aimed at promoting US energy exports to Europe, among other things, to create jobs in the United States. (This means that the Americans are using this political tool in market rivalry.) The Secretary of State is to report on the implementation of the Ukraine Freedom Support Act and on achievements in this area in February, with subsequent updates to be submitted every six months.

The bottom line is that PL 115-04 prescribes a specific bureaucratic procedure and narrative that will largely define US policy with regard to Russia in 2018 and thereafter. There will be at least seven reports submitted next year, each of which will most likely provide a pretext for the further alienation of Russia and the United States from each other. Russia needs a well-considered policy of clever actions that will make it possible to control confrontation, minimize damage, and retain foreign policy initiative.

First published in Valdai Discussion Club

RIAC Director of Programs, RIAC Member, Head of "Contemporary State" program at Valdai Discussion Club, RIAC member.

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The U.S. doesn’t want to protect Ukraine; it wants to defeat Russia

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If the U.S. (and its allies) wanted to protect Ukraine, then it (they) would not be doing all they can to prolong Russia’s invasion and destruction of Ukraine. They would not be flooding Ukraine with their weapons to kill Russians. They would not be demanding that Ukraine fight on, which destroys Ukraine even more. But this is what they are doing. 

Is this because they are so stupid that they don’t know that they are destroying Ukraine? Or is it instead because they don’t care about their destroying Ukraine but do care about their defeating Russia?

The U.S. (and its allies) are doing everything they can to defeat Russia. They are also doing everything they can to increase the sales, and profits, and stock-market valuations, of Lockheed Martin and the other corporations whose only or main customers are the U.S. Government and its allied governments which buy their weapons — buy them increasingly now in order for those weapons to be used even more now by their vassal-nations such as Ukraine, and Israel, and Saudi Arabia, against the nations that they also are wanting to defeat, such as Palestine and Yemen, and other countries that the U.S. and its allied governments care nothing about except that they want them to be defeated — to be punished for NOT caving to the U.S. Government and its allied governments, and which nations they condemn while calling themselves ‘the free world’.

How evil is this? Let’s see:

On May 19th, U.S. President Joe Biden signed into law an additional $40.1 billion to Ukraine in order to continue its war against Russia, which Biden and his boss Barack Obama, and Obama’s organizer of the 2014 U.S. coup in Ukraine Victoria Nuland had begun by means of that coup, which had transformed Ukraine from being a peaceful neutralist country on Russia’s border, into becoming promptly a rabidly anti-Russian and pro-U.S. country on Russia’s border that’s in a civil war and that is a prospective future basing-area for U.S. nuclear missiles there (like a 1962 Cuban-Missile-Crisis in reverse) to hit Moscow only a 7-minute flight-time away. It would be a checkmate in the U.S. regime’s long war to add Russia to its conquered prizes, if the plan would succeed.

To place that $40.1B additional expenditure into perspective, the comedian Jimmy Dore headlined on May 19th “ALL DEMOCRATS Vote [in Senate] To Send $40 Billion To Ukraine”, and Dore said “That’s more than three times what the entire U.S. music industry makes in a year,” and he called it “a wealth-transfer to the military-industrial complex.” He said that if this $40.1B addition to the current year’s expenditure on Ukraine’s war were instead to be spent domestically, “that would stop homelessness.” 

I checked those allegations. Here’s what I found:  

The entire U.S. music-recording industry is $11B retail sales per year. (That’s sales; profits would be some percentage of sales, but even if it were ALL of sales, then this $40.1B would be “more than three times” it.)

Annual cost to eliminate homeless in U.S.=$30B.

He wasn’t exaggerating; he was under-stating. This is how evil the U.S. Government actually is.

Mr. Dore also noted that all Democratic Party U.S. Senators and members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted for this additional $40.1B expenditure, and that the overwhelming majority of the Republican ones also did. Are Republicans now even more neoconservative than Democrats are? Not really: it is always the case that a neoconservative bill in the U.S. Congress gets virtually 100% support from the Party in power, and gets an overwhelming majority of the votes of the Party that doesn’t happen to be in power at the time. All the while, America’s ‘defense’-contractors increase their sales and profits and stock-market valuations. So, Dore expressed anger that in the Senate, even Bernie Sanders voted for this. And Glenn Greenwald presented a scathing condemnation of the hypocritical ‘progressive’ Democrat Octavio Ocasio-Cortez’s “complete reversal of everything that she pretended to believe in for years”. He attributed this contradiction of herself to “In 2016, when Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump, … instead of accepting responsibility because they themselves had nominated one of the most destructive and outright hated political candidates in modern American history in Hillary Clinton, … they decided to blame everybody else, … especially Putin and Russia. … And so Democrats have been feeding on this anti-Russia antipathy and hatred” ever since. And, so, “there is no viable anti-war [political] left in the United States.”

Though I enormously respect Glenn Greenwald, and everything that he said is true, I think that his analyses suffer from shallowness due to his apparent ignorance of history — his excessive focus on the obvious and recent news, outside of the broader context that’s required in order for there to be a deeper analysis, a scientific understanding, which identifies actual historical causes behind current events. This is not to deny that what Greenwald says is true, but to assert that it lacks the wisdom that ONLY an authentic historical analysis can bring to current events and to public-policy issues. Only by understanding causes can one move forward into the future (if there will be a future) so as to control future events in a constructive way, that will benefit future generations, instead of for future events to continue to degenerate even further into a hell which comes closer with every passing day.

I documented at Greanville Post, on May 19th, “The Secret U.S.-&-UK War Against Europe”, showing that BOTH American political Parties are controlled, at the very top, by a cabal of very closely connected individuals who are basically servants of the billionaire controlling owners of firms (such as Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and General Dynamics), which corporations’ major or even ONLY customers are the U.S. Government and its allied governments, but especially these controlling individuals are an organization that was started in 1877 by the British aristocrat Cecil Rhodes, and which finally took control over the U.S. Government itself on 25 July 1945, just three months after U.S. President FDR died and became replaced by the naive and manipulable Harry S. Truman, who set America’s Government irrevocably onto its control by “the military-industrial complex” and in league with Britain’s aristocracy, to ultimately control the entire world and obviate altogether the United Nations that FDR had started planning and hoping for back in 1941. (The Republican Dwight Eisenhower was also a key part of the Rhodesists’ American operation.)

This organization by the Rhodesists is the source of the evilness that pervades today’s U.S. Government, and it cannot be overcome unless and until it first becomes widely known-about, and then condemned so that all of today’s U.S. Government becomes replaced, because the corruptness of America’s (and UK’s) Government has, by now, become virtually 100%. And if this assertion doesn’t seem credible, then check the links in this report, which explains (and those links document) the actual source for the 19 May 2022 law to pour an additional $40.1B into Ukraine, which after the 2014 coup is a U.S. vassal-nation that’s self-destructing in order to serve as today’s main battleground (and U.S.-proxy) in the American (and British) aristocracy’s long war to conquer not only Russia, but also Europe, and the entire world.

First, the entire world (especially in Europe) has to recognize and publicly acknowledge the unacceptability of America’s Government, so as to condemn it and to order all of its troops out, ASAP. It is a hostile power, to the publics, everywhere — even in places where its stooges and hangers-on-billionaires are in political control (like a cancer) (such as in Europe). America’s Government is NO DEMOCRACY. No empire can be, and America’s most assuredly IS NOT a democracy. (Nor is UK’s.) It is a hostile occupying alien force, even inside the United States. (And this is widely suspected to be true, even by the American people.) In fact: the U.S. is the world’s #1 police-state. It is a cancer, everywhere that it occupies, and needs to be rooted-out everywhere. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, and the majority of America’s Founders, would have viewed this nation, today’s U.S. Government, to be their enemy, because it violates everything that they believed in, and hoped for, about America’s future, and the world’s. Everything.

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NYT Presents Strong Case for a War-Crimes Prosecution Against Russia

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Dozens of bodies near the cemetery in Bucha. Photo By Rodrigo Abd. Image source: war.ukraine.ua

Whereas numerous instances of U.S. war-crimes have been documented in some news-reports well enough to be successfully prosecuted in international war-crimes tribunals (but the U.N.-authorized agency the International Criminal Court cannot prosecute U.S. war-crimes but only war-crimes by third-world countries’ leaders), such well-evidenced instances by Russia are far rarer. However, on May 19th the New York Times presented precisely such an instance, under the headline “New Evidence Shows How Russian Soldiers Executed Men in Bucha”. Local security-cameras there recorded the frog-marching to their death of nine Ukrainian men who weren’t in Ukraine’s official armed forces but who had become armed to fight against the invading Russian soldiers in Bucha, and who were then executed by specifically identified Russian soldiers and their corpses abandoned on the ground as Russia’s soldiers left Bucha. Locals also told the NYT’s reporters what they had seen, and it fit with what those security cameras showed. The NYT reported:

The execution of the captured fighters and the homeowner in Bucha “is the kind of incident that could become a strong case for war crimes prosecution,” said Stephen Rapp, former United States ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues. The captives, having been disarmed and taken into custody by the Russians, were “outside of combat,” under the laws of war, Mr. Rapp said. According to the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross, such laws mean that prisoners must be treated humanely and protected from mistreatment in all circumstances.

In addition to the soldiers who shot the men, their commanders could be charged if they knew about the killings and failed to act to prevent or punish the conduct, Mr. Rapp said.  

However, Ellen Ioanes at Vox posted on April 9th an excellent article, “Here’s what the ICC can actually do about Putin’s war crimes”, and documented in detail that the consequence would be nothing except bad publicity which the U.S. and its allies could exploit, but even that would entail “a lot of hypocrisy” because:

one of the most vocal nations suggesting Putin be tried at the Hague — the United States — isn’t itself a party to the ICC. The US government voted against the ICC during the Rome Conference in 1998; former President Bill Clinton signed on to the Rome Statute in 2000 but never submitted it to Congress for ratification. Former President George W. Bush in 2002 notified then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that the US would not ratify the Rome Statute and didn’t have to abide by any of its provisions.

The U.S. Government, and many of its allies (such as the post-U.S.-coup-in-Ukraine’s government ever since 2014) perpetrate war-crimes (such as this) far more heinous than what the NYT reports there, but that doesn’t excuse what these Russian soldiers did. None of these war-crimes will be able to be successfully prosecuted.  

Here is the reason why the ICC, and the U.N. itself, turned out to be this way (Ioanes’s article provided only a superficial account regarding that matter — “A permanent international court is still relatively new,” etc. — but the actual cause, or reason, goes all the way back to answering how and why that has turned out to be the case, and this requires history going back to the 1940s):

Though the United Nations had first been conceived by U.S. President FDR in 1941 only shortly before the U.S. itself famously entered WW II on “a date which will live in infamy”; and though FDR developed, prior to his death on 12 April 1945, a remarkably detailed plan for what the U.N. would be and for what its Charter would need to include, his immediate successor, Harry S. Truman, while he was at the Potsdam Conference with Churchill and Stalin in July 1945, became persuaded by his hero, General Dwight David Eisenhower, that if the U.S. would not conquer the Soviet Union, then the Soviet Union would conquer the United States; and, so, on 25 July 1945, Truman made the decision (which soon thereafter became irrevocable) to set the U.S. Government onto the path of world-domination, to conquering the Soviet Union, and he even decided to demand of Stalin, regarding eastern European countries that the Soviet Union had freed from Hitler’s grip, that “I told Stalin until we had free access to those countries and our nationals had their property rights restored, so far as we were concerned ther’d never be recognition. He seems to like it when I hit him with a hammer.” Stalin was shocked at this turn of events, because he knew, in general terms, what FDR had been intending for the U.N. to be — a democratic federation of all nations which would terminate all imperialisms and be restricted to addressing only international relations (thereby excluding anything that pertains to intranational matters, such as Truman insisted upon) — and he still hoped, even for a few months afterwards, that Truman wouldn’t turn out to be a 180-degree reversal of what FDR had been, but thereafter Stalin gave up altogether on any such hope, and knew that the U.S. was now at war against the Soviet Union. Tragically, Truman, instead of FDR, oversaw, and basically dominated, the creation of the U.N., and so it turned out to be a toothless tiger, nothing like what FDR had intended, which would have been the international democracy of nations and possessed of a practical monopoly of geostrategic weaponry and international armed force, and also including, at the earliest practicable date, an international criminal court, which would try not only the international crimes by the former Axis powers, but the international crimes by the former Allied powers. The U.N. would have been fundamentally different than it is.

And, so, though there do exist international war-crimes cases regarding which the solidly documented historical record is sufficiently complete for an unprejudiced and trustworthy conviction to be possible, it cannot happen unless and until all of the bad history since 12 April 1945 (FDR’s death) has become effectively condemned, repudiated, and reversed, by enough of the world’s nations, so that the needed type of world government (international laws and their enforcement and juridical handling), replacing all of the existing imperialisms, becomes finally instituted (which was FDR’s obsession from 1941 on). However, even today — after all of these many decades of bad history — no one is even so much as talking about this.

One of the experts that Ioanes quoted said “‘It really shows a lot of hypocrisy,’ and encourages the perception of ‘justice for thee, not for me’.” And that (“for thee, not for me”) is, really, a pervasive and total impossibility of justice, for anyone. In its place can only be hypocrisy. Perhaps that’s what “liberalism” (which is certainly NOT progressivism) comes down to: hypocritical conservatism. Rule by the aristocracy (the super-rich), everywhere.

What is bad in the past must be publicly acknowledged (no longer lied about), if ever we are to go forward to an authentically better world. If that fails to happen, the world will only continue to get even worse.

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Putin’s House of Cards: What will happen to Russia’s satellites if his regime falls?

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The war in Ukraine has astonished even knowledgeable observers, impressed by Ukraine’s valor and ingenuity and by the Russian military’s ineptitude. While the war’s outcome remains unknown, many are beginning to speculate what Putin’s failure to achieve his objectives in Ukraine might mean for the empire he has tried to reconstitute. 

Alexei Navalny has even suggested that a defeat for Moscow would result in the break up of the Russian Federation. But what would Putin’s humiliation on the world stage mean for those countries beyond Russia’s borders that he has dominated? What would it mean for leaders who derive legitimacy not from popular support, but from Vladimir Putin’s brutal patronage?

Bashar Al-Assad’s regime might be the first to fall. Assad recently traveled to the United Arab Emirates in search of new allies. Prior to that trip, he hadn’t left Syria in eleven years except for brief excursions to Tehran or Moscow, his main benefactors. Were Putin to fall, Assad could find himself as isolated internationally as North Korea and possibly the victim of a coup by his elite. Assad currently controls only 60% of Syrian territory. With the coming shortage of bread as a result of severely reduced grain exports from Russia and Ukraine, another Arab Spring could erupt.

The Lukashenko regime in Belarus cannot exist without the economic and power support from Moscow. The Belarusian democratic revolution of 2020 was suppressed by the Russian Federation. Lukashenko possesses few independent resources to defend his unpopular regime. His participation in the Ukrainian war has left him completely dependent on the Kremlin, effectively relinquishing his country’s sovereignty. The moment a political crisis arises in Moscow, the turmoil will immediately spread to Belarus. Currently detained opposition leaders, including Viktar Babaryka and Sergei Tikhonovskiy, whose wife Svetlana probably won the  2020 Presidential election, would likely come to power.

The government of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev sacrificed Kazakhstan’s national sovereignty by inviting Russian troops to help suppress protests there last January, alienating the Kazakh-speaking majority, and the Almaty elite, who largely shape public opinion, and were already outraged by Tokayev’s orders to shoot peaceful protesters. The continuing turmoil has helped produce and is exacerbated by the sharp decline of Kazakhstan’s economy, Central Asia’s largest, a downturn compounded by sanctions imposed on the Russian Federation, and by Kazakhstan’s membership in the Eurasian Economic Union.

The future leader of Kazakhstan will be someone who has the support of the Kazakh-speaking majority, and isn’t tainted by last January’s bloodshed. Imangali Tasmagambetov has the best shot. Immensely popular, and not a Kremlin puppet, he might be the only candidate who could consolidate support throughout Kazakh society, and enact independent and pragmatic policies.

Putin’s downfall could encourage the advancement of universal principles of democracy and human rights in all of Russia’s former satellite countries, and the restoration of their territorial integrity. With the support of Turkey, Azerbaijan will take complete possession of Karabakh while ensuring its historic autonomy within Azerbaijan. Georgia would be in a strong position to recover South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

In Moldova, despite Acting Russian Commander Rustam Minnikaev’s recent claim that Moscow’s forces could extend control along the Black Sea coast to Transnistria, should the Russian army falter, Transnistria could be unified with Chisinău, paving the way for Moldova’s European integration. 

At the same time, Russia’s defeat in Ukraine could propagate new geopolitical risks. Ambitious Turkey will increase its regional influence, and countries bordering Taliban ruled Afghanistan like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan will be subjected to greater Islamist challenges.

China will take advantage of the situation. With Russia’s decline, Beijing’s Belt Road Initiative could supplant the Eurasian Economic Union in Central Asia. The influence of the democratic West will be limited unless the West provides greater economic assistance to countries in the region to encourage their commitment in word and deed to democratic principles.

Although Putin often compares himself to Czar Alexander III, his real historical parallel is Nicholas II, who believed a small victorious war with underestimated Japan would elevate his second rank power to great power status in the courts of Europe. The result was defeat on the world stage, and more violence and chaos in Russia. Putin made the same mistake with Ukraine, and the consequences will threaten the survivability of his regime and his cherished goal of restoring a great Russian empire.

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