Staunton, January 30 – Washington’s policy of sanctions on members of the Russian elite is predicated on the idea that such penalties will convince its members that Vladimir Putin can’t defend them against the West and that they would be better off without him, Stanislav Belkovsky says (mbk.media/sences/stanislav-belkovskij-dlya-putina-kremlevskij-spisok/).
That may prove to be the case, although no one will know for certain until someone takes action; and the slowness with which the US has acted, something typical of democratic societies, the Russian commentator says, means that the sanctions may not have that effect because Putin has time to turn the tables on the West over the sanctions list.
Any leader can be expected to counter actions against him in ways that limit the impact of those actions; and Putin has proved himself a master in judo-like fashion in turning the actions of the West to his advantage. In the day since “the Kremlin list” was announced, Russian analysts have suggested that is exactly what he will try to do.
Here are five ways in which that may happen, at least according to Moscow analysts:
The Putin line already is that the Kremlin list means that in the eyes of the West, all Russians are enemies, and that his policies which are based on Russia’s being a besieged fortress are thus confirmed rather than challenged by what Washington has done. Consequently, the only possible Russian response is greater unity around the Kremlin and more resolve to fight the West (sobkorr.ru/news/5A7073AC3B02F.html and pektr.press/news/2018/01/30/peskov-figuranty-kremlevskogo-doklada-de-fakto-nazvannymi-vragami-ssha/
2. Many Russians are not sure that the list will lead to sanctions on many of those included, especially given the comments of the US ambassador in Moscow. They believe that if the US actually imposed sanctions on the entire list, that would weaken Moscow; but that if as expected, it doesn’t hit all of them, this approach will only strengthen Putin’s hand at home and abroad (x-true.info/65927-rossiya-razvernet-kremlevskiy-doklad-ssha-v-svoyu-polzu.html, forum-msk.org/material/news/14286698.html, novayagazeta.ru/articles/2018/01/30/75325-spisok-est-a-sanktsiy-net and vz.ru/politics/2018/1/30/905961.html). After all, some say, what does Putin have to lose by doing what he wants?
3. Some commentators are suggesting that the Kremlin list is only “an imitation of an anti-Russian policy given what some American officials, including the president, have been saying, and given that Moscow can use what Washington has done to divide it further from Europe. If Europe doesn’t go along with the US, the sanctions policy will backfire to Russia’s benefit given that Moscow’s major goal is to split Europe off from the US (https://vz.ru/politics/2018/1/30/905842.html).
4. Controversies are already swirling over the list as to why some are on it and others are not. While Putin may be “offended” that he didn’t make the list (rbc.ru/politics/30/01/2018/5a70602b9a7947225b0dd39b?from=main), many are very proud, seeing their inclusion as an indication of their loyalty and thus of preferment in the future, exactly the opposite conclusion those behind the sanctions hoped for (themoscowtimes.com/news/pride-disbelief-russias-elite-react-us-oligarch-blacklist-60327).
5. The Kremlin list is seen as working to Putin’s advantage in two other ways: On the one hand, while it may inflict some short-term losses on the Russian economy, it could become the basis for a new authoritarian modernization in which far fewer Russian funds will now go abroad (rosbalt.ru/moscow/2018/01/30/1678473.html). And on the other, it may even open the way to a Putin-Trump summit. Putin now says he won’t respond to the list (rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=80006) and that could set the stage for talks (svpressa.ru/politic/article/191752/).
Putin may not succeed, but he certainly isn't going to role over and play dead in the face of the latest action by Washington.