U.S. Stuck With Nobody Left to Sanction in Russia Over Syria
The U.S. put sanctions on Russia’s main arms exporter, Kremlin aides and the black leather-loving head of a motorcycle gang nicknamed “The Surgeon” after the 2014 invasion of Ukraine. Now, as Washington seeks ways to punish Moscow for its actions in Syria, it may be running out of options.
President Barack Obama’s administration says new sanctions are among its alternatives as it seeks to ease the humanitarian crisis in Syria, where Russia backs President Bashar al-Assad’s drive to recapture the city of Aleppo. But Secretary of State John Kerry won’t give any details, and European allies failed last week to consider tighter restrictions.
Experts say potential next steps include expanding what’s known as the Specially Designated Nationals list to include more military officers or weapons companies that provide munitions used in Syria. Such moves would limit their access to American banks and block visits to the U.S., although critics have long scoffed that Russians on the list can find other ways to move their money and different destinations for family vacations.
Supporters of the sanctions tied to Russia’s actions in Ukraine say they have had an economic impact. The International Monetary Fund said the Russian economy contracted 3.7 percent 2015 because of falling oil process and what it called the “quasi closure of international financial markets to Russian entities.” Gross domestic product is forecast to fall an additional 1.2 percent this year.
A State Department official said a range of sanctions options are being prepared for the White House, which will make the final call on whether to impose them. The official, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private, said several possible sanctions regimes could have an impact, though they “are not ideal” in Syria’s case. One challenge is a matter of timing: Sanctions may take a long time to kick in, but the U.S. wants an immediate halt to the Aleppo campaign.