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  April 8th, 2016 | Written by

Give Russia Sanctions a Chance to Work: U.S. Official

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  • State Department official: Trade sanctions are not meant to be permanent.
  • State Department official: The purpose of Russia trade sanctions is to advance a political settlement in Ukraine.
  • State Department official: “We think that the U.S.-EU solidarity [on sanctions] caught many Russians off guard.”

“Sanctions don’t always work according to a timetable.”

That was a key message delivered by Dan Fried, coordinator for sanctions policy at the U.S. Department of State, at a recent presentation at the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs in New York.

Fried was referring to measures imposed against Russian individuals and entities by both the United States and the European Union. The sanctions are part of a program seeking to pressure Russia to reverse its annexation of Crimea and to stop supporting separatists in Ukraine. The targeted individuals and entities are considered to be complicit in Russia’s Crimea and Ukraine actions.

Among other things, the U.S. sanctions make it more difficult for companies to get export licenses for goods and materials destined to the targeted individuals and entities. The EU sanctions freeze assets and impose visa bans on individuals, companies, and entities either located in Crimea or having ties to separatist units in eastern Ukraine.

Both the U.S. and EU have expanded their sanctions several times in recent months. Moscow has called the sanctions “hostile actions” and has responded with trade restrictions of its own.

Although the sanctions do not seem to be having an effect, if the end is to reverse Russia’s policies and actions in Crimea and Ukraine, Fried does not believe the time has come to lift sanctions, even though, he commented, sanctions “are not meant to be permanent,” and that it is important to “create conditions to take away sanctions.”

“The purpose of the sanctions against Russia was not to punish but too change behavior,” Fried explained. “They advance a political purpose which is to achieve a settlement in Ukraine.”

The Minsk initiative advanced by Germany and France calls for a cease fire in Ukraine, local elections in the separatist areas, and restoration of the eastern Ukrainian border. “The United States and EU agree that the sanctions will be kept in place until these political aims are achieved,” said Fried. “We think that the U.S.-EU solidarity caught many Russians off guard.”

While the Minsk accords have been accepted by Russia and Ukraine, “the bad news,” said Fried, “is that Minsk is not being implemented. Russia and the separatists violate the cease fire.”

According to Fried, who has served administrations dating back to Ronald Reagan, multilateral sanctions such as those imposed on Russia represent “the gold standard,” as are targeted “smart sanctions” as were being imposed against Russia. They must be applied with care, he noted, as trade sanctions have the potential to hurt allies as well as U.S. business. Sanctions are also challengeable in court by innocent parties who may be injured by them, “and you don’t want to be losing cases in court,” Fried said.

Interestingly, the U.S. and Russia have been able to cooperate with each other on other global issues, such as Iran and, to a lesser extent, Syria, even while the sanctions stand.

“Why not cooperate,” he said, “when it is in our best interests?”