Thursday, June 6, 2019

Sanctions. II

Photo by Alexei Klimentiev, AFP/Getty Images, via Time.
Continued from a previous installment

After Trump had finally surrendered to 14 months of demands by Congress that he should punish Russia for its interference in the 2016 US presidential election, by putting sanctions on 19 individuals and 5 entities mostly among the ones named in Mueller's 16 February indictments around the Internet Research Agency and its social media contributions to the Trump campaign, widely regarded as an inadequate gesture

Russian businessman Evgeny Prigozhin, one of those indicted by Mueller and hit with sanctions on Thursday, said in comments cited by RIA news agency that he already had been hit with U.S. sanctions “maybe three or four times - I’m tired of counting.”
“I’m not worried by this,” Prigozhin was quoted as saying. “Except that now I will stop going to McDonald’s.”
—his first big thought seems to have been devoted to getting together with Vladimir Putin, as soon as possible, perhaps with an invitation for a White House summit; he arranged for a phone call, five days later, on 20 March, two days after Putin's victory in the Russian presidential election, to his second consecutive and fourth total term in office (more than 16 years, since the length of the term had been changed to six years in 2012). Briefing materials from Trump's aides warned him in all caps, "DO NOT CONGRATULATE", we're told, but Trump congratulated Putin anyway.

When Putin reportedly told Trump that some U.S. administration officials had tried to prevent the call from happening, Trump called them “stupid people,” the New York Times reported, citing a person with direct knowledge of the conversation.
A few days after that, a group of some 27 nations, including 18 from the EU plus Canada and Australia, punishing Russia for the attempted poisoning murder of Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yuliya in the placid English cathedral town of Salisbury, got together to expel a very large number of Russian diplomats from their shores; the US as well, expelling 60, but Trump seemed to feel he'd been misled:
According to an in-depth Washington Post report, “when the expulsions were announced publicly, Trump erupted” because the total expulsions by the U.S. were higher than Germany or France. “Trump insisted that his aides had misled him about the magnitude of the expulsions. ‘There were curse words,’ the official said, ‘a lot of curse words.’” Trump had previously instructed his aides, “‘We’re not taking the lead,’” and now he “was furious that his administration was being portrayed in the media as taking by far the toughest stance on Russia.”
Then again by 3 April he was boasting, for what I think was the first time, that "Nobody has been tougher on Russia than I have," and on the 6th the Treasury Department seemed to be trying to furnish him with some evidence, announcing a much more directed set of sanctions preventing
38 Russian individuals and companies, including seven Russian oligarchs and the companies they control, 17 government officials, a state-owned Russian weapons-trading company and its subsidiary, and a Russian bank
from doing business with the United States, either in their own right or through proxies. under the CAATSA law and in response to all the Russian outrages from the annexation of Crimea and support of the Assad regime in Syria to the election interference and a host of cyber crimes. This turned out, in fact, to be the consequence of an idiotic mistake by treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin, in congressional testimony in January:
“There will be sanctions that come out of this report,” Mnuchin said—a surprise statement, because while Congress had ordered the department to create a report on Russian oligarchs, it didn’t require that any sanctions be imposed based on it.
Mnuchin’s slip-up forced Treasury officials to scramble to come up with a plan that would match the secretary’s under-oath statement, according to four congressional sources directly involved in the sanctions process. And in April, the department sanctioned Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska and his aluminum company Rusal.
According to those sources, Treasury broke protocol and did not coordinate closely with other departments to properly scrutinize Deripaska and evaluate the impact of the sanctions—which roiled global markets and caused aluminum prices to skyrocket, mainly affecting U.S. partners in Europe. 
Yes, these sanctions, which Congress had not even asked for, were imposed because Mnuchin was afraid of getting hit with perjury charges, and the victims were pulled off of that idiotic list compiled . in December by consulting Forbes Magazine, and by 20 April, Treasury was already working on ways to pull back on at least the aluminum sanctions whose outlines would be clearer by the beginning of May. (But Treasury also sanctioned some additional FSB-connected entities and individuals in June.)

Meanwhile UN ambassador Nikki Haley, who apparently hadn't gotten the memo, came out to publicize the coming of yet more sanctions and got smacked down:
April 15, 2018 — On CBS News’ Face the Nation, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley states “Russian sanctions will be coming down. Secretary Mnuchin will be announcing those on Monday if he hasn’t already and they will go directly to any sort of companies that were dealing with equipment related to Assad and chemical weapons use.” However, the White House walks back Haley’s statements and tells the Russian Embassy in Washington that there will be no new sanctions. The Trump Administration publicly characterizes Haley’s announcement as a misstatement. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow says, “There might have been some momentary confusion” in reference to Haley’s statement. “With all due respect, I don’t get confused,” Haley tells Fox News. The Washington Post reports that “President Trump had become upset about public discussion of new sanctions after Haley spoke on CBS’s ‘Face The Nation.’ Trump told aides that he was not ready to impose the new penalties, and the White House decided to characterize Haley’s remarks as an error.”
And in June the plans for a Putin summit were moving along and Trump was off to the G7 meeting in Canada where he told the assembled leaders that Crimea was Russian, since everybody there speaks Russian, and that Russia had spent a lot of money developing the peninsula, and that he couldn't understand why they were all on Ukraine's side (this was not going to be US policy, as Pompeo was assuring the world in July), and that NATO was "as bad as NAFTA", and left the meeting early refusing to sign the joint declaration and complaining that Prime Minister Trudeau was "very dishonest and weak" and headed off to Singapore to meet with Kim Jong-un, when he solved the North Korean nuclear weapons problem, only not really, and getting ready for the big meeting with Putin in Helsinki in July where he was to explain that he thought Putin was likely to be in the right and the US intelligence community in the wrong on the question of whether Russia had in fact interfered in the 2016 election at all.

That's pretty much it for the story of Russian sanctions in the Trump administration. In September 2018 he signed an executive order giving himself permission to sanction any country that interferes with US election, but I'm pretty sure it hasn't been applied anywhere, and it hardly seems likely that was its purpose. In January Congress made a heroic attempt to stop Treasury from delisting the Deripaska-connected companies (I should say that because of the importance of the aluminum market to everybody in the world a lot of smart people thought these sanctions were a really bad idea anyway) but couldn't get a veto-proof majority.

There's no question in my mind but that Trump has shown himself anxious to lift the existing sanctions since well before the inauguration, anxious to avoid imposing new ones and fighting the Congress, the State Department, the Treasury Department, and the European powers in their various attempts to get him to do it, and eager to minimize whatever sanctions on Russia these other parties manage to force on him, in every way short of trying to explain why this is so important to him in regard to this one particular country, as much as if he really had made that bargain in the summer of 2016. Even as Russia-US relations seem to have been breaking into worse hostility than in the Obama era since Trump's abject performance in Helsinki, this one thing (along with Trump's continual inability to acknowledge what Russia did in the 2016 election and the US government's failure to do anything to protect us against more of the same) doesn't look as if it's changing.

While Trump's crazy use of economic warfare everyplace except Russia is eroding its legitimacy, as The Economist is saying.

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