Michael Martinez is a graduate student at University of Maryland University College where he is currently obtaining his master’s degree in intelligence management. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in business management from Coastal Carolina University. He can be found on Twitter @MichaelMartinez. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.
National Security Situation: U.S. economic sanctions towards Russia following its aggressive actions in Ukraine.
Date Originally Written: March 1, 2017.
Date Originally Published: April 17, 2017.
Author and / or Article Point of View: This article is written from the standpoint of the U.S. national security community regarding future plans or movement on Russian sanctions.
Background: In February 2014 the Olympic winter games had just concluded in Sochi. Russia was in the midst of invading the Crimea region and portions of Eastern Ukraine. The U.S. placed targeted economic sanctions on Russia as a reaction to its invasion. While these sanctions have been detrimental to Russia’s economy, President Vladimir Putin is still holding portions of Eastern Ukraine and attempting to annex the Donbas region as Russian territory. The first round of the sanctions from the U.S. were a response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, while a second round began as the ceasefire between Ukraine and Russia failed to take hold. The future of Russian aggression towards Ukraine is undetermined at this time.
Significance: In the U.S., the Trump Administration is taking a significantly more laissez-faire approach to Russia and Russian government officials, including Putin, than President Barack Obama did. Any change in U.S. policy towards Russia will have significant impacts in Eastern Europe and on North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members – as matters of economics, trade, and territorial occupation are concerned. A declining Russian populous and economy, being backed into a corner, can provide for dangerous consequences, especially since its military and nuclear stockpiles are quite viable.
Option #1: The U.S. continues current economic sanctions until Russia withdrawals its forces from Crimea and the Donetsk region, including other areas of Eastern Ukraine.
Risk: As the U.S. keeps economic pressure on Russia to withdraw from Ukraine’s sovereign territory, a new Cold War may develop as a stalemate between the U.S. and the Russian plays out. Russia will hold on to the territory it occupies at this point in time and continue cross border skirmishes into the Donetsk region.
Gain: If U.S. economic sanctions against Russia were to remain in place, these sanctions and NATO pressure in the form of expanded presence is put upon the Russian government to rethink its strategy in Ukraine. If these sanctions continue, the Ruble will sustain its downward trajectory and inflation will continue to rise, especially for consumer goods. Economic contraction will put pressure on the Russian government to take corrective action and rethink their position to counter public opinion. In 2015, the Russian economy contracted by 3.7%, while it shrank another 0.7% in 2016.
Option #2: The U.S. lifts economic sanctions against Russia to give the Russian population economic stability in a country that heavily relies on oil and gas exports as the main driver of its economy and much of its wealth.
Risk: Lifting sanctions may send a signal to the Russian administration that its behavior is warranted, acceptable, and falls in line with global norms. President Putin may feel emboldened to keep moving his forces west to annex further portions of Ukraine. Most of Eastern Ukraine could become a war zone, and humanitarian efforts would have to be implemented by the United Nations and other Non-Governmental Organizations if more grave violations of the Minsk (II) Protocol occurred. Putin’s ultimate plan might involve gaining influence in other former Soviet satellite nations. As such, a Ukraine-like effort may repeat itself elsewhere. Lifting sanctions might give Putin a green light for his next conquest.
Gain: The Russian people may take a friendlier view and role towards the U.S. and allow for more trade. President Putin may be more open to multilateral trade negotiations. A new trade agreement may become possible between Russia and the U.S., including countries that have been targeted by Russian aggression such as – Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic States. A restoration and expansion of the Commonwealth of Independent States Free Trade Agreement or similar agreement, would be prudent to economic activity in the region. Of note is that Ukraine is in a position where it now relies on Germany and Western European nations for imports and likely cannot stand on its own.
Other Comments: None.
 Baer, Daniel. (24, February 2017). Don’t forget the Russian sanctions are Russia’s fault. Foreign Policy. Retrieved March 1, 2017. http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/02/24/dont-forget-the-russia-sanctions-are-russias-fault/
 Kottasova, Ivana. (26, February 2017). What would rolling back U.S. sanctions mean for Russia? CNN Money. Retrieved March 1, 2017 http://money.cnn.com/2017/02/16/news/economy/russia-sanctions-trump/index.html
 “Russia Trade Agreements”. (23, June 2016). Exports.gov. Retrieved March 1, 2017 https://www.export.gov/article?id=Russia-Trade-Agreements