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Why The US Sanctions On Russia Will Create A Deadlock Over Ukraine

18:30, Monday, 07 August, 2017
Why The US Sanctions On Russia Will Create A Deadlock Over Ukraine

Why The US Sanctions On Russia Will Create A Deadlock Over Ukraine
     It was with reluctance that US President Donald Trump on August 2 agreed to sign a new bill into law that slaps Russia with wide-ranging sanctions. Passed by overwhelming majorities in Congress, the law mainly targets Russian state-owned assets including intelligence and defense, the railways and metals sectors, and prevents the export or import of any goods, services and technology to support Russia’s deep water, Arctic offshore or shale oil and gas exploration.

However, rather than pressuring Russia into political change, it is far more likely these measures will reinforce Russia’s view that any cooperation with the West would be a display of weakness. This has serious and far reaching implications for the West’s ability to curtail Russia’s foreign interventions abroad, particularly in eastern Ukraine.

Cautious observer

The new bill aims to coerce Russia into complying with the Minsk peace agreement – including withdrawing its forces from rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine and returning control of the borders to Ukraine. The additional sanctions, many of which do not directly relate to Ukraine, will likely have the opposite effect, and make it much more difficult for the West to apply further pressure on Russia.

Given this, news of the sanctions bill was received tepidly in Ukraine. While President Petro Poroshenko publicly welcomed the news, many broadcasters mulled the possibility that Russia could use an escalation of the Ukraine conflict to exact revenge on the US. After the bill was signed, outspoken Russian MP Vitaly Milonov suggested Russia should boost support to citizens of the Donbas – in rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine– including granting them passports, further solidifying Russia’s support for the rebels.

This would jeopardize progress on brokering a peace deal and, more alarmingly for Ukraine, might prompt Russia to escalate the conflict. This, alongside the US special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker’s comments in recent days that the US should supply ‘defensive arms’ to Ukraine, has the potential to make the conflict far hotter than before. Yet a more likely scenario is that, barring occasional upticks of violence, the new sanctions will ensure a prolonged freezing of the conflict with no progress on a diplomatic solution in sight.

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