Soft Biden: What revision of US sanctions policy means for Ukraine?

Author : Georgiy Kuhaleyshvili

Source : 112 Ukraine

By the end of the summer, the administration of US President Joe Biden is going to review the sanctions policy
23:11, 8 July 2021

Joe Biden

According to American officials on condition of anonymity, the United States will adjust the sanctions against other countries so that they are targeted and do not entail collateral economic damage, do not bring discomfort to ordinary citizens. Decisions on the use of restrictive measures will be made based on the views of America's allies, and not at their own discretion, as did former President Donald Trump. Under the current conditions, the easing of anti-Russian sanctions is undesirable for Ukraine.

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Crash of Ukraine's expectations

After the annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of the armed conflict in Donbas in 2014, a stereotype was formed that the United States was allegedly interested in Ukraine's victory in the confrontation with Russia, and sanctions would force the Russian authorities to return the occupied territories to us. The Ukrainian authorities expected unprecedented pressure on Russia with the coming to power of Joe Biden, who is perceived as a wise and strong politician capable of rallying the entire civilized world around the United States.

Once President Volodymyr Zelenskyy even compared his American colleague to the famous basketball player Michael Jordan in terms of professionalism. Sometimes the President's Office makes strange statements that the American president should help Ukraine more, promote NATO membership, and if he refuses to impose sanctions against the construction of the Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, then “Russia will have an excellent opportunity to take the upper hand over the USA.”

It should be understood that the Biden administration does not perceive Russia as a threat to the existence of the United States. Of course, Russia is an opponent of America and their views differ on the Ukrainian and Syrian issues, they are competing for influence in the Arctic. However, the global confrontation between Moscow and Washington, as in the years of the Cold War, no longer exists. The main global competitor for the United States is China. The United States needs a stable and predictable relationship with Russia so that its leadership maintains neutrality in the American-Chinese confrontation and for cooperation in the field of nuclear arms control, climate protection, in the field of resolving international crises.

Biden doubts the effectiveness of the sanctions, which did not compel Russia to return the annexed Crimea to Ukraine, withdraw illegal armed groups from the occupied regions of Donbas, and transfer the 400-kilometer section of the state border to Kyiv's control. The White House adheres to a contradictory principle with regard to its opponents and competitors: punish them with sanctions in the event of provocations and threats to American security, but cooperate where possible. Sectoral sanctions prevent American businesses from working in Russia in the fields of energy, finance, the military-industrial complex, oil production, and manufacturing. The US delegation is the largest at the annual St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

Related: Zelensky plans to discuss economic, security issues during meeting with Biden

The United States is revising its sanctions policy to improve relations with European partners, which have deteriorated under Trump. German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently proposed holding a Russian-EU summit, which was received with hostility by some of the bloc's members. French President Emmanuel Macron believes that anti-Russian sanctions do not work, and advocates a dialogue with the Russian Federation, including in the security sphere. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz opposes the introduction of new anti-Russian sanctions and believes that it is necessary to resolve the existing contradictions in Russian-European relations. The authorities of Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Italy doubt the effectiveness of anti-Russian sanctions, which prevent businesses from working with Russian companies. Biden did not impose restrictive measures against companies associated with the Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, so as not to aggravate relations with Russia and Germany participating in the project.

Arguments that Biden will save Ukraine from Russian aggression at any cost are erroneous since the American president prefers cooperation and seeking compromises with opponents, avoiding coercive tactics whenever possible. The Biden administration will not abandon sanctions against Russian officials, government agencies, and state-owned enterprises, but will not introduce restrictive measures aimed at depleting or destroying the Russian economy.

The United States will do the same with other countries that are subject to sanctions. The Biden administration is likely paving the way for easing sanctions against Iran since 2018. Otherwise, Tehran will not return to the fulfillment of the terms of the nuclear deal. Despite the economic damage from sanctions to the Iranian economy in the amount of more than $ 100 billion, the leadership of the Islamic republic did not stop enriching uranium, and its behavior did not become more predictable. Pro-Iranian Shiite armed groups systematically bombard US military positions in Syria and Iraq with drones and artillery. Tehran has not given up on terrorist financing and missile development.

The North Korean leadership has not abandoned its nuclear and missile program, despite the sanctions of the UN Security Council. Attempts by US President Donald Trump at the Hanoi summit in February 2019 to persuade North Korea's supreme leader Kim Jong-un to give up nuclear weapons in exchange for lifting sanctions were unsuccessful. Sanctions against Syria and Venezuela did not lead to the fall of authoritarian regimes and the rise to power of democratic opposition.

Related: Merkel and Biden to discuss situation in Donbas during meeting in Washington , - Ambassador

Liberal games

The Biden administration is following the American liberals, who believe that sanctions against individual countries can be eased in order to provide humanitarian assistance to the local population. Senator Edward Markey and Member of the House of Representatives Andy Levin have proposed a bill to lift some restrictions on the DPRK in order to facilitate access to the country for humanitarian workers. North Korea suffers from shortages of food, personal care products, water filters, and even batteries for electrical appliances. About 40% of North Koreans are malnourished. The reason is that the authorities closed the borders and introduced strict quarantines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The United States has revised sanctions against Venezuela, which is also in a humanitarian crisis. In particular, in July 2021, the US Treasury Department lifted sanctions on four firms that own tankers that transported oil from Venezuela. About 7 million Venezuelans are in need of humanitarian aid, and 3 million have left the country.

The idea of ​​easing sanctions against Cuba is popular in the Democratic Party. In March 2021, a group of congressmen led by Bobby Rush and Gwen Moore sent a letter to Biden demanding the lifting of restrictions imposed by the Trump administration. The Island of Liberty has been under US economic blockade since the Socialists came to power in 1959. Under Trump, Cuba was included in the list of countries sponsoring terrorism by the US State Department. Restrictions were imposed on the travel of American citizens to the island, money transfers, and the export of pharmaceutical products. Cuban migrants annually transfer $ 3.5 billion to their families on the island. At the end of November 2020, 400 offices of Western Union, a money transfer company, stopped operating in Cuba due to sanctions.

Related: Zelensky to hold direct talks with Biden at the end of July

The crisis of ideas in the White House

The Biden administration did not come up with anything new and follows the tradition of ex-President Barack Obama, who also tried to negotiate and find a compromise with opponents, avoiding coercive tactics, which resulted in a "reset" policy in relations with the Russian Federation, in a nuclear deal with Iran in 2015, softening sanctions against Cuba; and discussions on sharing responsibility with China for maintaining the world order (the "Big Two"). The duumvirate of the United States and China did not take shape, and both nuclear powers slipped into global competition in the economic, technological, and military-political spheres, while the "reset" with Russia and the nuclear deal with Iran were covered with a copper basin.

Apparently, the White House has a crisis of ideas and a lack of understanding of how to behave with its opponents. Republican Senator Ted Cruz compared the revision of the sanctions policy to the ineffective policy of appeasing the aggressor, which was carried out by Great Britain and France, making concessions to Nazi Germany on the eve of World War II. The opponents of the United States did not and will not reckon with American interests, and they will perceive the revision of the sanctions policy as a manifestation of weakness.

For example, Russia will not change its line of behavior on the Ukrainian issue. According to the OSCE, in June 2021, positions of the Ukrainian military in the Donbas were shelled 205 times. Since the beginning of the year, over 40 Ukrainian servicemen have died. Moscow will continue to insist on its vision of the sequence of implementation of the Minsk agreements: first, amendments to the Constitution of Ukraine on the special status of Donbas, elections in the occupied part of eastern Ukraine, and only then return to Kyiv control over a section of the border, withdrawal of illegal armed formations and equipment from the occupied territories.

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The Kremlin will continue to regard the annexed Crimea as its territory, carry out its militarization and obstruct freedom of navigation in the Black Sea. For example, on June 23, a Russian fighter jet dropped an aerial bomb near the British destroyer Defender, which was sailing from Odesa to Georgia near the Crimean coast. The Russian Federation has deployed Iskander operational-tactical complexes on the peninsula, which allow launching 9M729 cruise missiles, which go beyond the limitations of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The Tu-22M3 strategic bombers capable of delivering nuclear bombs anywhere in Europe are on alert on the peninsula.

Biden risks repeating the mistakes of his former chief Obama in pursuit of a quick solution to problematic issues and to appear in the eyes of the international community as an overly soft and compliant politician who is ready to sacrifice democratic values ​​and the interests of allies.

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