Before coronavirus and the economic collapse that ensued consumed Congress’ complete attention, it was in the midst of debating a bill called Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKA).
The bill’s purpose is to punish Russia — and its president-for-life Vladimir Putin — for its myriad transgressions of recent years: These include its overt support of Venezuela’s rogue and illegally elected president Nicolas Maduro, its attempted manipulation of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and its invasion and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.
Despite President Trump’s inclination to paper over these differences and establish some sort of detente with Putin — primarily because of his desire to unite the rest of the world against China, which he sees as a much bigger adversary,
Congress does not share his geostrategic perspective, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. However, while the U.S. government is right to take a hard stance against the Kremlin, it should do so within a long-term strategy that recognizes the challenges of dealing with Russian authoritarianism, keeps our country engaged at least to some degree with the country’s business sector, and not punish U.S. businesses concomitantly.
And in its current form, Daska does not achieve those precepts.
The sanctions included in DASKA are indiscriminate and inflexible, and there is little reason to believe they will change Russia’s behavior.
Without important modifications, DASKA could even leave the country in an even more advantageous position. In its current form the legislation would halt U.S. participation in projects in which Russia is engaged — not just in Russia but anywhere in the world.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce averts that these sanctions could "force termination of U.S. participation in more than 100 such projects around the world and obligate U.S. firms to leave their non-portable assets and investments behind or sell them suddenly at deeply discounted prices."
American companies will be left at a distinct disadvantage and their existing investments would either be sold on the cheap or simply abandoned.
Such an outcome would not only needlessly punish our own citizens but also undermine the popular support for our country’s broader attempts to quarantine Russia for its behavior.
In order to have a chance to produce the intended outcome with a minimum of collateral damage, sanctions must be carefully calibrated and directed so that they produce the intended pressure and little other pain.
To achieve that, they should:
- Target specific, clearly articulated objectives that focus on future behavior, not retroactive punishments
- Be conduct-based
- Be deployed only when they have a credible chance of success
- Allow for changing circumstances;
- Avoid spillover to third-country markets
- Avoid the attendant risk of erosion of U.S. influence from overreach
Congress needs to strengthen DASKA to crack down on the Kremlin, while allowing U.S. companies to remain unscathed in the Russian market.
If these sanctions are too severe, they could (counterproductively) lead to a stronger partnership between Russia and China. Former U.S. Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats warned that "China and Russia are more aligned than at any point since the mid-1950s."
Whatever nefarious goals Putin may have for the future, Russian businesses would doubtlessly rather work with American than Chinese ones, given some enormous differences between Russian and Chinese entrepreneurs.
Russia’s behavior has been despicable and sensible diplomacy calls for them to be punished, which we have done — we have closed down its U.S. Trade Mission and sanctioned some of its top political and business leaders.
However, taking a giant step towards economic disengagement makes little geopolitical sense.
We don’t want to rob St. Petersburg to pay Paul.
Jared Whitley is a long-time politico who has worked in the U.S. Congress, White House, and defense industry. He is an award-winning writer, having won best blogger in the state from the Utah Society of Professional Journalists (2018) and best columnist from Best of the West (2016). He earned his MBA from Hult International Business School in Dubai. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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