Source: Lynn Corum

A basic rule of international relations is that you do not impose sanctions without an end state in mind.  You also need to be able to muster strong international support by providing clear proof of the charges you are bringing.  Does the U.S. have that support?  When you levy charges against another country and then apply sanctions, there will invariably be pushback.  The situation can easily escalate into a major crisis.

Has Biden thought through his dealings with Russia and President Vladimir Putin?  What does he intend to accomplish with the latest round of sanctions against the Russian Federation?

In just four months, President Biden has managed to ratchet up tensions with Russia to new heights not seen since 2014 and the invasion of Ukraine.  Last Thursday, Biden made good on his threats, announcing new sanctions to Russia for interfering in the 2020 U.S. presidential election and involvement in the SolarWinds hack of federal agencies — activities Moscow has denied.  The Biden White House now admits that one provocative claim against Putin, Biden’s repeated accusations that Russia put bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, relies upon very shaky intel from the CIA.  In remarks to a state news agency on Monday, Zamir Kabulov, President Putin’s special envoy for Afghanistan and a former ambassador in Kabul, dismissed the Taliban bounties report as “outright lies” generated by “forces in the United States who don’t want to leave Afghanistan and want to justify their own failures.”  Putin is particularly irritated at the idea that he would hire killers from a radical Islamist group that is banned in Russia as a “terrorist” outfit, the same Afghan fighters who killed so many Red Army soldiers during their war there.  So, despite this admission from the White House, Putin has not forgotten the slight.

As Russian news service Interfax reported on April 21, “[l]ast week, the United States unveiled a new package of sanctions against the Russian Federation, which included the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats from the embassy in Washington and a ban on American financial institutions from participating in the initial placements of the Russian government debt denominated in rubles.”  Putin has now decided to mirror the expulsion of Russian diplomats from Washington.  That same Wednesday, the deputy head of the U.S. Mission to Moscow, Bartle Gorman, was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry to be handed a note announcing that ten employees of the U.S. Embassy were now “persona non grata,” ordered to leave Russian territory by the end of the day. 

In addition, U.S. ambassador John Sullivan was advised to travel to Washington for “consultations,” recalling yet another slight against Putin perpetrated by President Biden.  When Putin‘s demand for a direct talk with Biden was rebuffed by Jen Psaki on March 18, the Russian ambassador to Washington was immediately recalled to Moscow for consultations.  According to Interfax, “further steps” may be expected in the near future, “within the framework of the statement announced by the RF Foreign Ministry on April 16, a set of responses to the latest ‘wave’ of illegal U.S. anti-Russian sanctions.”

In his lengthy address to the country on April 21, after numerous fatuous promises of enhanced social welfare programs, environmental protections, support for education, and the like — promises meant to divert attention from the genuine grievances behind the countrywide protests planned for that day — Putin proceeded to warn “organizers of provocations against the Russian Federation” against “crossing the red line in relation to Russia.”  As he continued, it became clear that the United States is included in these warnings, especially considering that the expulsion of ten American diplomats was to take place that same day.  Putin appears to see the U.S. behind today’s nationwide protest marches.  He is also clearly incensed by Biden’s unrelenting diatribes against Russia.

Prior to Tuesday, Ambassador John Sullivan had given a statement that he would return to the United States this week to discuss U.S.-Russian ties with members of President Joe Biden’s administration, suggesting that he followed the example of Anatoly Antonov, recalled last month, who had not yet returned to Washington.  Now that Putin has expelled the ten American diplomats, however, despite being “advised” by the Kremlin to leave Russia, Sullivan is digging in his heels.  He says he will not be leaving any time soon.  “Putin will have to force me out.”

Meanwhile, Putin is linking the current aggressive actions of the United States against Russia to the activities of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation.  Putin insists that this foundation and its activities are somehow being steered by the United States.  His “proof“: a Russian expat living in Florida says he donated $50 to an opposition politician seeking to run for a Moscow city council seat.  Putin’s regime has used this fact to establish Navalny’s foundation as an “organization performing the functions of a foreign agent in Russia,” which adds teeth to any official actions taken against Navalny and his supporters.  In an official government statement regarding Wednesday’s national protests, the R.F. Ministry of Internal Affairs warned that like everyone, they “remember that calls for provocations are heard from abroad.”

Putin wasted no time going after Navalny’s supporters and otherwise interfering with the protests that were planned for April 21.  In the evening of April 20, parts of Kostroma as well as Yekaterinburg were blocked off for “insect spraying.”  On Primorsky Kray‘s municipal “Telegram” channel, a post warned local residents about the “dozens of phones, cameras, and camcorders” that would post images of “participants in unauthorized actions,” plus the “criminal liability, fines, forced labor, and prison terms” that would be used to punish them.  Students across Russia, including Krasnodar, Omsk, and Yekaterinburg, were issued social media messages warning of “liabilities” for participating in “an uncoordinated event.”  In Moscow, all students of the state university there were required to take a listening test in a foreign language in the middle of the day on April 21 — even students who had already taken such a test.  In Omsk, the local Technological College student residents of the city hostel were required to take part in a “cleanup day” on April 21, something usually scheduled for a Saturday, even though they paid for janitors to keep the facility clean.

In his April 21 speech, Putin complained that “unfriendly actions” against Russia have not stopped.  Putin maintains that he is restraining his behavior “to the highest degree”: “We are not often responding, not only to unfriendly actions, but also to outright rudeness.”  According to Putin, the Russian Federation wants to have “good relations” — even with “those with whom, of late, relations have not developed.”  Putin ended with this warning:  “But if someone perceives our good intentions as indifference or weakness, and he himself intends to finally burn these bridges (in relations with the Russian Federation — IF) , then he should know that Russia’s response will be asymmetrical, quick and tough. … All sorts of whimpering Tobaccos are spinning around those who cling to us, like around Shere Khan” — an interesting allusion to a Jungle Book character.  Who knew that Putin was a Kipling (or is it Disney?) fan?

Lynn Corum is a translator who studies developments in the Russian press that affect America’s national interests.  She has been researching and writing on Putin’s stated plans since 2009 and is a world expert on Project Russia, the Kremlin’s published state ideology.