Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Moscow has No Symmetrical Answers to US Sanctions, Russian Analysts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 10 – Three Moscow analysts say that the Kremlin has no clear symmetrical answers to the imposition of new US sanctions that do not do as much harm to Russia as to the United States, and thus it may pause for a time while deciding what it in fact will do.

            Meanwhile, a Chinese analyst argues that precisely because Vladimir Putin doesn’t have any symmetrical responses at hand, the Kremlin leader is likely to engage in aggressive actions somewhere in order to demonstrate that he has not been put into a corner by the West and deprived of his freedom of action.

            Rosbalt commentator Aleksandr Zhelyenin spoke with Aleksey Makarkin of the Moscow Center for Political Technologies, Nikolay Petrov of the Higher School of Economics, and Igor Nikolayev of the Institute for Strategic Analysis to get their views on how Putin is likely to respond to the new sanctions regime (rosbalt.ru/russia/2018/04/10/1695231.html).

                Makarkin says “Russia today does not have the economic levels for influencing other countries which the US has.” Moscow has already expelled most American NGOs and recently expelled a group of American diplomats. It could stop selling rocket engines but that would effectively kill Russia’s space program.

            Moscow could also stop purchasing US-manufactured civilian aircraft but that would hit Russia’s airlines hard because Russian companies don’t yet manufacture enough to provide a substitute.  Thus, he says, any effort to use economic levers would end up hurting Russia more than the US.

            In his view, the Moscow analyst says, the Russian authorities will “now take a time out” and try to figure out “how to answer; but answers aren’t visible.”

            Petrov agrees, adding that “we do not have any variants of symmetrical response.” Moscow may elect to do things like close American structures like Voice of America and Radio Svoboda or stop selling the US titanium. But “we cannot present the US with anything analogous to the American business sanctions.”

            And Nikolayev echoes that position. “Moscow doesn’t have the opportunities” because the Russian economy is “ten times smaller” than the American. And as result, anything in the economic realm such as blocking purchase of American shares or government bonds, will end up hurting Russia more than it could ever hurt the United States.

            But a Chinese commentator in an article that has been translated by INOSMI and widely reposted in Russian outlets says that precisely because Russia has no economic responses at hand, Moscow almost certainly will look for asymmetrical ones and they are likely to involve some new use of force (inosmi.ru/politic/20180409/241934565.html).

                The last two weeks have been very tough for Putin, the Beijing commentator says; and he will certainly be looking for ways to turn the tables. Using force in one direction or another is what he has done in the past; and consequently, it is what he is likely to do now.  Indeed, the worse things become in relations with the West, the more likely that becomes.

            Putin is certain that the West won’t go to the level of a world war. Its leaders don’t like or approve of him, but they will be restrained in their response. Consequently, there is room for Putin to cause trouble as he has before, confident that the penalties the West will impose are things he can survive and that the laurels he will win will be far greater. 

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