Robert Harneis –TDO-(FRANCE)- The latest round of US sanctions smack of internal politics prior to the mid-term elections in November. It is part of the endless maneuvering around US Russian relations which the Democrats and some Republicans are trying to use for electoral advantage. The excuse that the US is now satisfied that Russia used chemical weapons in Salisbury against father and daughter Skripal is laughable.
Moscow would like to improve relations with Washington and hoped that the successful summit in Helsinki had moved things in that direction. They may have done but on the surface few in the United States has anything much to lose by showing their anti-Russian electoral virility and supporting sanctions.
A Kremlin spokesman said the sanctions were illegal and unfriendly and that the U.S. move was at odds with the “constructive atmosphere” of Trump and Putin’s encounter in Helsinki.
Moscow would start to work on retaliatory measures “in the same spirit” as any U.S. restrictions, the Foreign Ministry said.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned the US that any sanctions targeting Russian banking operations and currency trade will be treated as a declaration of economic war and retaliated against by any means necessary according to RT.
“If they introduce something like a ban on banking operations or the use of any currency, we will treat it as a declaration of economic war. And we’ll have to respond to it accordingly – economically, politically, or in any other way, if required,” Medvedev said during a trip to the Kamchatka region. "Our American friends should make no mistake about it,” he emphasized.
Medvedev noted that Russia has a long history of surviving economic restrictions and never caved in to the pressure in the past. “Our country had been living under constant pressure through sanctions for the last hundred years,” Medvedev said, accusing the US and its allies of employing sanctions to undercut global competition. “Nothing has changed.”
The prime minister said that by targeting Russia’s gas exports to Europe, Washington wants to push its own LNG shipments to the continent. “It’s an absolutely nonmarket anti-competition measure aimed at strangling our capabilities.”
According to Reuters the new sanctions come in two tranches. The first, which targets U.S. exports of sensitive national-security related goods, comes with deep exemptions and many of the items it covers have already been banned by previous restrictions.
The second tranche, which can be selectively activated after 90 days if Moscow fails to provide “reliable assurances” it will no longer use chemical weapons and blocks on-site inspections, is potentially more serious.
According to the law, it could include downgrading diplomatic relations, suspending national flag carrier Aeroflot’s ability to fly to the United States and cutting off nearly all exports and imports.
The State Department’s announcement fueled already worsening investor sentiment about the possible impact of more sanctions on Russian assets and the rouble at one point fell by over 1 percent against the dollar, hitting a two-year low, before recouping some of its losses.
Despite the drop in the rouble, the central bank was not expected to intervene. It let the rouble float freely in 2014 after an unsuccessful attempt to defend it followed by a notably successful ambush of currency speculators.
European countries and the United States expelled 100 Russian diplomats after the Skripal incident, in the strongest action by Trump against Russia since he came to office. This was despite grave doubts amongst a number of European nations that there was any proof of Russian involvement. The British government’s case that only Russia had the capability to produce the poison used turned out to be untrue and the argument that only the Russian government had a motivation to assassinate the Skripals was obvious nonsense.
Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center and a former colonel in the Russian army, said the State Department’s move looked like the latest salvo in what he called a hybrid war. “Sanctions are the U.S. weapon of choice,” Trenin wrote on Twitter. “They are not an instrument, but the policy itself. Russia will have to brace for more to come over the next several years, prepare for the worst and push back where it can.”
If the United States bans Aeroflot from the country Russians will still be able to fly there using other airlines. However, retaliation, including banning US flights from Russia’s huge airspace is probable. This would be extremely costly for any airline involved.
The extensive use made by the US government of the Skripal affair to impose sanctions and expel diplomats together with the surprisingly widespread support for Britain from EU and NATO countries, despite the Brexit crisis, would tend to indicate that the US intelligence services themselves might know something about what happened to the Skripals.
This latest aggressive action by Washington against Russia will tend to cause governments worldwide to look to their degree of involvement with the dollar and to long term defenses against US sanctions. Since Trump became President no country in the world, including America’s closest allies, has escaped sanctions or the threat of sanctions. Whilst this may serve some purpose in the struggle with Russia, China and Iran in the short term, it is hard to escape the conclusion that in the long term the United States is isolating itself from all but its most abject allies.