Speaking on Sunday’s talk-show circuit, Secretary of State John Kerry condemned Russia’s military intervention in the Crimea, accusing the Kremlin of invading the Ukraine and violating the UN Charter. The condemnation echoes calls from Capitol Hill to impose immediate sanctions against Russia, but Putin will likely persist despite such threats. In the past, Russia ignored international opprobrium when it invaded Georgia in 2008. And somewhat like the Georgian case, where Moscow had established a military presence, Russia possesses a significant investment in the Crimean peninsula in the form of a strategically valuable naval base. Given this, Secretary Kerry’s remark that the international community is considering “all of the options,” carries a degree of imminence and inevitability. Of those options that are immediately available, the warning of Russia’s possible economic isolation, asset freezes, and visa bans have us wondering what shape such sanctions may take.
If sanctions are implemented, they may include asset freezes and visa bans targeting some Russian officials. In a recent letter to President Obama, members of the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee proposed “targeted sanctions and asset recovery targeting corruption.” This may take the form of asset freezes and visa bans not unlike those implemented by the European Union and the United States, following the death of Sergei Magnitsky. Those sanctions targeted Russian officials connected with Magnitsky’s death, who had alleged that Russian officials carried out large-scale fraud, theft, and human rights violations. It is unclear at this stage, however, whom precisely the sanctions might target. Trade sanctions may also seek to limit Russian banks’ access to the international financial system.
U.S. threats of sanctions may amount to more than mere chest-pounding. When Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, the international community raised the possibility of implementing sanctions against Moscow. The threats never materialized into action—though some conspiracy theories cite U.S. involvement in the conflict as the reason why U.S. or European sanctions were not imposed – yet another way that this conflict differs from the Georgian invasion.
Nevertheless, recent developments indicate that inaction may be disfavored in this instance. The EU may yet join the United States in issuing sanctions against Russia. In a statement released today, the Council of the European Union noted that it would consider suspending “talks with Russia on visa matters” and “further targeted measures.” The EU has already agreed to impose asset freezes and visa bans on Ukrainian officials responsible for “violence and use of excessive force.”
We will monitor the U.S. and EU response as it continues to develop, with an eye toward those economic sanctions that may impact trade relations with Russia. The Russian stock market has already suffered a significant loss today and more economic consequences may follow. For further reading, you can find Secretary Kerry’s statement on the matter here. Others may be interested in how Russia’s Ukrainian intervention squares with Putin’s “Plea for Caution” and related commentary.