New US sanctions on Russia – a move of surprise

14:53 | 17/08/2018 Cooperation

Following the historic summit between US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, the analysts were expecting a new page in the US-Russia relations. However, Washington has decided to impose new sanctions against Moscow and the two sides have repeatedly criticised each other in recent days, thus pushing their bilateral ties back into a state of tension.

US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin pictured during their summit in Helsinki on July 16, 2018 - Reuters

The US-Russia relations have seen signs of improvement since the Trump-Putin meeting took place in Helsinki, Finland, last month. In late July, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a phone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to concretise the commitments reached in the previous Russia-US summit.

Accordingly, the two sides discussed the situation in Syria, how to implement their ideas on counterterrorism process coordination, and the establishment of a dialogue channel between the private and non-governmental entities of the two countries. The discussions also touched upon the need for Russia to provide fair and reciprocal diplomatic access to the US. The prospect of improving the Russia-US relations became “brighter” as the Kremlin said that President Putin received an invitation to attend a summit with US President Trump in Washington later this year.

However, “the joy was short-lived.” The US-Russia relations have returned to a state of tension over recent days after the US announced that they would impose new sanctions on Russia over Moscow’s alleged involvement in the poison attack of a Russian ex-spy in the UK. The new US sanctions are expected to come into effect on August 22 and be implemented in two phases, including a ban on export licenses to sell anything with a potential national security purpose to Russia.

Amid the tensions in the US-Russia relations, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov made a phone call on August 10. However, instead of discussing the cooperation contents, they mainly expressed tough stances or criticised each other. According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, during the talks, Minister Lavrov affirmed Moscow’s stance opposing the new US sanctions aimed at Russia. Earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a discussion with members of the Russian Federation Security Council on new US sanctions, criticised the move as “totally illegal” and counter to international laws.

The unpredictable developments in the Russia-US relations have taken the international community by surprise. The analysts stated that Washington alleging the Russian ex-spy’s poisoning as an excuse for new sanctions on Russia would hardly “let Moscow be persuaded”, as they failed to show any convincing evidence of Russia standing behind the case.

Many analysts said that President Trump, perforce, had to apply the sanction aiming to calm down protests from within US politics following his failure to show a tough stance over Moscow. After his “friendly and soft” meeting with the Russian President in Finland, President Trump received a lot of criticisms from US politicians as he did not mentioned either sanctions against Russia or the poison attack of the Russian ex-spy in the UK early this year. Many parliamentarians of both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party voiced their dissatisfaction at the results of the Trump-Putin summit, hailing it as a “missed opportunity” to blame Russia for many issues.

However, the implication of the new US sanctions is that President Trump may have closed the door to improving relations with Russia that he himself had just opened. Analysts predict that it will be very difficult to hold a second Russia-US summit in the near future. Another implication is that these new sanction measures not only fail to prevent Moscow from developing, but also threaten to make the European Union (EU) alienate the US. Washington’s punishment over Moscow would increase the rift in the EU and also worsen the relations between the US and its European partners.

Currently, the EU countries are split into two factions, with some favouring the US sanctions, and the rest opposing the move because it influences their economic interests. In fact, a newly released UN special report showed that since the imposition of sanctions on Russia in 2014, the EU economy suffered a loss of US$3.2 billion a month, which means the damage has risen to over US$100 billion thus far. Therefore, the US strengthening its sanctions on Russia will make the EU suffer from huger losses.

The aforementioned developments and the interactive relationship between the US, Russia, and the EU are showing complexity in the policy to adjust the bilateral ties between the two world powers, the US and Russia. With President Trump first expressing his goodwill and then punishing Russia, it can be seen that the relations between these two powers remain in a state of uncertainty and unpredictability, and this is definitely not beneficial to stability and development in Europe as well as globally.

Theo NDO