Will President Trump implement new sanctions against Russia?

Will President Trump implement new sanctions against Russia?

U.S. President Donald Trump’s approval of new sanctions against Russia has triggered a debate as to whether the latest spiral of tensions might lead to a new Cold War between Washington and Moscow.

The legislation, which was approved in Congress by a bipartisan and veto-proof majority, aims to punish Russia’s government for its alleged meddling in the country’s 2016 presidential elections, the annexation of Crimea and its support to separatists in Ukraine. The sanctions also target Iran and North Korea for their human rights violations and missile development programs, but it is the Russian section that has come under the spotlight since Trump’s move runs counter to his earlier position of forging friendly ties with Kremlin.

From a closer look, Trump’s decision to sign the bill – albeit reluctantly – shows that he has given into the domestic pressures building on Capitol Hill amid intensified investigations into his campaign ties with Russia. 

By signing the bill, Trump might be hoping to ward off some of the accusations against him, including ones that he put the U.S.’s interests at stake with his pro-Russia stance.

Notably, the president criticized the legislation for being “significantly flawed.” Kremlin responded with counter measures, ordering the U.S. to remove approximately 60 percent of its diplomatic staff in Russia and announcing the seizure of two U.S. diplomatic properties. Interestingly, the announcement came before Trump signed the bill, which could be perceived as a response addressing Congress, not the president.

Nevertheless, the new sanctions will surely cast a shadow on U.S.-Russian relations despite Trump’s efforts to improve relations with Moscow. “The hope that our relations with the new American administration would improve is finished,” said Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

But defining the recent U.S.-Russian confrontation as a new Cold War is not that meaningful. Although geopolitical struggles remain, power configurations and threat perceptions in today’s world differ greatly from those in the Cold War given the complex interdependency ties among actors and the forces of globalism. 

Russia has been openly defying the U.S.-led unipolar world since President Vladimir Putin’s speech at the Munich Security Conference in 2007, and Russia’s expansionist policies have created concern among NATO countries, but Western allies’ priorities and threat perceptions have changed since the Cold War.

Eastern European countries feel the chills of growing Russian influence in the region more than their fellow partners in the west. That is why one can observe a significant increase in the number of NATO deployments in Eastern Europe and the Black Sea to counter Russian expansion, while on the other hand, Washington and Moscow can cooperate to avoid military clashes in Syria.

As the world shifts toward a multipolar structure, issue-based cooperation and coalitions of the willing are becoming more common than a dichotomous division of the world between friends and foes as during the Cold War.

The new U.S. sanctions will particularly hit firms working with Russia in the energy sector and duly affect multinational projects such as the Nord Stream 1, Nord Stream 2 and Blue Stream. Besides, many U.S. and European investors, as well as foreign banks, that do business with Russia, Iran and North Korea will also be subject to sanctions.

From a European perspective, the new sanctions are perceived as part of the trade wars launched by Trump and manifested in his “America First!” policy; as such, they have created a backlash among European allies.

The crux of the matter is to what extent Trump will implement the sanctions bill.

A full implementation of the sanctions might widen the already-deep transatlantic divide. Leading French car company Renault has just signed a deal with Iran, defying the U.S. decision.

Perhaps the devil is in the details. As the U.S. State Department said, “The Department is still reviewing the various provisions of this legislation [while the U.S. should] continue to uphold and seek unity with European and other key partners on sanctions implemented against the Russian Federation, which have been effective and instrumental in countering Russian aggression in Ukraine.”

The artificial divide between foreign and domestic policy is getting blurred each and every day. All the same, foreign policy decisions made with a view to domestic concerns continue to produce worldwide repercussions.