Threats that Washington could impose sanctions directly on Russian President Vladimir Putin is not a demonstration of American strength and capability, but rather a demonstration of desperation. If such sanctions were passed and implemented, it will lead to a serious deterioration of relations between the US and Russia and, possibly, even a severing of ties.
Senior Democratic senators, led by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, unveiled a fresh package of sanctions last week to target Putin and other high-ranking Russian officials – if Washington determines that Russia started a war with Ukraine. It could be speculated that this is really about trying to stop the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline project that will deliver Russian gas to Germany and other parts of Europe.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov warned that sanctions on Putin are "an unprecedented measure tantamount to severing ties." Although such an action by the US would be drastic, news of possible sanctions, especially at a time when security negotiations were underway last week between Russia and the US/OSCE, should be seen as a desperate attempt to pressure Moscow into submission.
Perhaps the threats were made to strengthen the American negotiating position during last week’s discussions. There is nothing particularly new about sanction threats against Russia, except now the emphasis has been placed on personal sanctions on Putin. This is being spearheaded by the anti-Russian lobby linked to the part of the Democratic Party that is unhappy with what they perceive to be President Joe Biden’s soft policy towards Russia.
Another problematic aspect is what kind of sanctions the Americans might be able to impose on the Russian president given that he has no assets or bank accounts in the West. Since no one publicly knows what sanctions US senators have devised, it is likely the sanction threats against Putin were empty given in the hope of strengthening US negotiating power with Moscow. This does not negate though that the US could sanction other individuals or perhaps even the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
In addition, new sanctions are being prepared in case the situation escalates in Ukraine. This is despite the fact that Moscow insists it has no intention of invading Ukraine. This has not stopped the US from disseminating disinformation, with the latest being that Russia has been "laying the groundwork to have the option of fabricating a pretext for invasion" by blaming Ukraine.
"We have information that indicates Russia has already prepositioned a group of operatives to conduct a false-flag operation in eastern Ukraine," said Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary on Friday.
Despite Russia desperately trying to avoid war, the US is painting a picture that the country is nefariously seeking ways to justify an invasion of Ukraine. Given the US’ long history of false flag operations, perhaps Ukrainian provocations are being prepared to be presented as a Russian false flag operation to justify sanctions and perhaps coerce Russia into a destructive and costly war.
The sanctions proposed by the Democrats could also include the prime minister, the foreign minister, the defense minister, the chief of staff of the Armed Forces and other military figures. Sanctions could also target key banks and the SWIFT system. Washington believes that such threats send a clear signal about its readiness to devastate the Russian economy.
Nonetheless, if there really is a desire to reduce tensions, then Washington should speak the language of diplomacy and not of threats that can be considered a brazen and cynical method to trade on what is needed and important to the US side in the negotiations. However, it was for this very reason that controlled leaks during last week’s negotiations sent the message that sanctions have been prepared if Russia does not capitulate to American demands.
Sanctions undoubtedly affect the Russian economy, but it certainly has not destroyed it. Take for example the fact that Russia used to be an importer of agricultural products, but today it is a major exporter despite sanctions. The same could happen in other sectors of the economy where sanctions could be imposed.
In this way, threats of strengthened sanctions, especially against Putin, is nothing more than a desperate attempt to force Russia into capitulation and abandon the humanitarian situation in Ukraine and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. As Moscow will not capitulate or be dragged into war with Ukraine, the biggest threat is not whether Washington will impose strengthened sanctions against Russia, but if it is preparing a false flag operation in Ukraine to blame the Kremlin.
Paul Antonopoulos is a research fellow at the Center for Syncretic Studies.