-Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal
Russia has ordered the United States to reduce its diplomatic and technical staff at its embassy in Moscow and diplomatic missions in other Russian cities obviously in response to a US Senate vote to impose tougher sanctions on Russia. The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Friday: “We kindly ask the USA to adjust the headcount of its diplomatic and technical staff by September to exact parity with the number of Russian diplomats and employees in the USA.”
Russian ministry wrote in its statement: “This means the overall number of personnel employed in American diplomatic and consular institutions in the Russian Federation will be reduced to 455.” Currently, according to one estimate, the US missions in Russia has over 1000 member staff. Russian foreign ministry announced in its statement it was also ousting US embassy personnel from warehouses and cottages in Moscow starting in August. We reserve the right to respond with other measures we might find appropriate,” the Ministry added.
Moscow said the move came in response to a US Senate vote on July 27 that would impose harsher sanctions on Russia if it is signed into law by U.S. President Donald Trump. “The passage of the new law on sanctions shows with all obviousness that relations with Russia have become hostage to the domestic political battle within the USA,” the Foreign Ministry said. “The latest events show that in well-known circles in the USA, Russophobia and a course toward open confrontation with our country have taken hold.”
Moscow also warned that if Washington takes new unilateral steps to cut the number of Russian diplomats in the United States, its retaliatory moves would be reciprocal. According to Deputy Chairman of the State Duma, Sergei Zheleznyak, the US currently has 1200 diplomatic employees in Russia.
A US Embassy spokesperson told The Moscow Times in an emailed comment: “We have received the Russian government notification. Ambassador Tefft expressed his strong disappointment and protest. We have passed the notification back to Washington for review.”
Sanction imposes a reduction on holding short-term debt by sanctioned Russian financial institutions from 30 to just 14 days. For other sanctioned sectors, oil and defense, that term is reduced from 90 to 30 days. It specifically targets Russian energy pipelines by prohibiting sales and investments in excess of 5 million dollars a year. It raises the specter of restrictions on the sale of Russian sovereign debt and its derivatives by calling on the US Department of Treasury to issue a report studying the matter. It severely limits U.S. investments into Russian privatization deals if they benefit sanctioned entities or individuals, including Russian government officials and their relatives.
Secretary Tillerson refused to endorse the Senate bill, calling for “flexibility to adjust sanctions to meet the needs of what is always an evolving diplomatic situation.” But for key senators, Tillerson’s progress in establishing a constructive relationship with Russia was too little too late. Secretary of Defense James Mattis waded into the debate yesterday saying he sees little prospect of a positive relationship with Russia, so long as Moscow acts as a strategic competitor.
Neocon strategists argue that lifting Russia sanctions may prove to be too politically costly, giving them a life of their own. The bill lumps Ukraine-related sanctions with hacking sanctions, Syria sanctions and human rights sanctions into one single package — all with different relief procedures. It closes the door on Moscow’s hopes for decoupling the Donbass sanctions from the full implementation of the Minsk agreements, that Russia claims are purposefully stalled by Kiev.
It calls for US government reports on Russian oligarchs and Russian illicit financing in the USA and Europe. More ominously, it allows the US. Treasury to implement “Anti-Terror” measures against Russia, which may lead to the US to designate Russia as a “terror-supporting” country.
Though US sanctions have not crippled Russia or its economy, they did affect its further growth. Since Russian trade in oil, gas and terror goods keeps the nation in good stead Russia has not been destabilized like Pakistan, Afghanistan or Iraq or Libya that the US led NATO attacked to destabilize them.
American strategic community has not yet realized a crucial fact in international affairs that every nation won’t follow the same policy towards Washington. USA should know that Russia is a strong economic and military power almost at par with USA, if not better than USA and it does not behave like a weak and destabilized Pakistan which USA can bully at will and an sanction if slapped on Islamabad would weaken that nation further.
Although both cannot fight a real, direct war the USA and Russia settle their scores by fighting proxy in other nations.
America enjoys slapping sanctions (economic terrorism) on its foes or on those it considers as potential enemies. The US Senate went all in against Russia on 2terrorism) The US Senate went all in against Russia on 26 by advancing a robust package of Russia sanctions, attached to another Iran sanctions bill. The Senate vote was 97-2, a veto-proof majority. The final vote may come as early as possible.
US President can, if he wants, however, use his veto. The House passed its own version of the bill before President Trump met Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, their first, at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. Any change in sanctions would be subject to congressional review. This risks setting up new political fights and complicating the government’s legislative agenda.
The Trump government is now trying to derail the bill, or at least postpone its consideration by the House, but it looks like a losing battle.
It appears President Trump, who has strong business links with Russia, has soft corner towards Russia and its president Vladimir Putin, though he tries to hide that from public view.
However, most Americans do not want any reconciliation with either Russia or China and are eager to sustain the tensions between the super powers so that US terror goods could be sold to weak nations at a premium. The last time Trump first spoke with Russian officials, he faced accusations of leaking confidential information about the Islamic State in Syria provided to the US government by Israeli intelligence.
White House had no positive feeling about any credible change in tensed bilateral relations following the meeting. The Trump-Putin meeting — the first between the two leaders — was announced by US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster. “It won’t be different from our discussions with any other country, really,” McMaster told Reuters. “There is no specific agenda. It’s really going to be whatever the president wants to talk about.”
An informal meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump at the G20 summit did not clarify the issue of cooperation between their two countries, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said US-Russia relations are of “special importance” because “the solution to many issues, from maintaining strategic stability to settling regional crises,” depends upon them, Lavrov said. The annual G20 summit, which brings together world leaders and central bank governors from 20 major economies, was held in Hamburg, Germany on July 7 and 8. There isn’t any real move from them to stabilize their ties, for the sake of world peace.
Russian foreign minister Lavrov characterized the current situation as “abnormal” due to political in-fighting in Washington. However, the two presidents’ meeting in Hamburg did not only did not add clarity on the prospects of Russo-American cooperation, it confused the real status of US-Russia relations.
The bill may be a little over the top. It codifies and institutionalizes the existing sanctions regime by restricting the president’s ability to lift or alleviate sanctions. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that he would prefer to avoid new measures against Russia that would compromise the few channels still open between the countries.
The retaliatory measures mirror the White House’s decision in December last year to confiscate two Russian diplomatic compounds in New York and Maryland and expel 35 Russian diplomats from the country. The decision came in response to Russia’s alleged hacking of institutions related to the US presidential election.
President Trump will be presented with a wrenching decision. Does he veto a bipartisan sanctions bill and see his veto overridden? This would be a humiliating defeat for someone who prides himself on winning. Or, does Trump sign a bill which will infuriate Vladimir Putin and probably end a rare opportunity to mend the US relationship with Russia?
It is hard to say now how disruptive the sanctions may prove to be on the Russian economy. There are estimates that the financial sector may already be largely immune to new limits on short-term debt.
President Putin has a decision of his own to make. Should he retaliate in kind and forfeit any hopes for a change in tone with Washington? Or risk being exposed as weak in defense of Russia’s interests at the time he is about to launch his re-election campaign. Putin quickly retaliated by asking USA to reduce the staff members in US diplomatic missions in Russia.
It also isn’t clear whether new sanctions would cause a shift in Moscow’s posture. The Kremlin would almost certainly not suffer the offense lightly were the bill to become law, and avenues of dialogue closed — particularly on Syria where the US and Russia have been engaged in a delicate dance to establish a de-escalation zone.
With the special counsel investigation into the Russian interference, the Trump government is hamstrung in its ability to oppose new anti-Russia sanctions. But it would be unsubtle and ironic were Russia to find itself under heavier sanctions under him than under President Obama, who Moscow blames for driving the relationship into the ground.
So, the question of new phase of Russo-US relations does not arise at least for now but it is difficult to predict the mutual; attitudes between the former Cold War foes who kept entire world under fear of nuclear terror threat.