This week the US Congress has published the text of a bill on another round of anti-Russia sanctions, which was submitted back on February 13. The alleged “Kremlin’s meddling in democratic institutions globally” and “the Kremlin’s aggression against Ukraine” in the area near the Kerch Straight served as pretext. The draft law initiated by senators Robert Menendez and Lindsey Graham is an enforced version of a similar bill that the authors attempted to suggest last year though failed to garner support from the Senate. Earlier Senator Graham dubbed the drafted restrictions as “sanctions from hell’.
However, it should be noted that the toughening of the draft does not look considerable compared with the initial version. The major change is that the specific list of state-run banks with VTB and Sberbank on it dropped out of the key point on sanctions against them. The bill contains no mention of the Nord Stream 2 project either. Many points of the new draft law concern Russia’s cyber sector: they target any person, including financial institutions, conducting major transactions with “persons able to commit or support cybercrimes.”
While accusing Russia of cyberattacks against American websites during congressional elections in November 2018, the United States itself carries out cyberattacks against Russia. For example, NBC News television reported the previous day that US President Donald Trump personally greenlighted operations of the American Cyber Command against Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA). According to the TV channel, the action has become “the most aggressive” move by the Trump administration to combat “Russian election interference.” The issue, as noted, is about blocking internet access for the IRA on the day of the US congressional elections. The Washington Post newspaper also confirmed the fact.
The Kremlin promptly responded to those reports of American media outlets. Particularly, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists that “it is possible” that the US influences Internet operations in Russia, adding that the bill on Russian sovereign segment of the Internet is being adopted domestically for protection against that. “Taking it, these potential threats into account, a law-making activity is carried out to pass such legislation as the so-called sovereign Internet bill,” Peskov explained.
The United States has taken another unfriendly move against Russia. Though new sanctions are subject to congressional approval, it is hardly doubtful that American lawmakers will do it. Noteworthy is that earlier President Trump at least occasionally spoke about the US’ striving to normalize the relationship with Russia, but recently the White House occupant has ceased making such statements, not to speak of particular steps in that direction. It appears that the so-called “Washington swamp” that he pledged to drain during his pre-election campaign, has won in a covert fight with the 45th president of the US, and no improvement of ties between Moscow and Washington is in store for us, at least for the foreseeable future.
To be sure, anti-Russia sanctions have both implications and benefits for the country’s economy. On the plus side, sanctions have forced, as President Vladimir Putin put it, “to get head in the game in many areas.” After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has relied entirely on imports and western technologies, goods and services, meanwhile forgetting to develop its own. As a result, today Russia lacks, for instance, industrial technologies for electronic components of many types of products. Or, for example, the Soviet Union was one of the world’s leading producers of clothes, footwear and leather goods at the time. The import level did not exceed 3%, while the sector itself contributed 12% to the country’s GDP. Whereas today Russia provides itself only 15% of domestically produced clothes and 14% of footwear. And there are quite a few such negative examples.
That said, Russia’s economy has been developing reasonably well recently, even despite the sanctions, and has managed to adjust to external restrictions. Which is evidenced by the statistics: following the global crisis of 2008-2009, the Russian economy without sanctions lost 7.8%, whereas in 2015 – only 2.5%.
Of course, sanctions is an unpleasant thing, while their implications can be unpredictable at times. It is no coincidence that to that end, the abovementioned Dmitry Peskov said when asked about new US sanctions, that they can trigger “very disastrous results.” “”Theoretically, one should always hope for the best, but prepare for the worse,” the Kremlin spokesman said.
In their history, the Russians have gone through even more serious upheavals than American sanctions…