February 26, 2024

Over 500 New Sanctions for Navalny’s Death

That’s a big number … but does it actually do anything?

President Joe Biden announced over the weekend plans to impose hundreds of new sanctions against President Vladimir Putin and Russia for the death of Alexei Navalny. It is the second round of such a large number of sanctions at once since Russia invaded Ukraine. Navalny was the last remaining opposition to Putin’s regime in Russia.

Navalny was an anti-corruption activist who had uncovered the dark underbelly of the oligarch’s methods of obtaining vast riches while the ordinary Russian lives on just under $15,000 a year. Putin had tried to kill Navalny in 2020 when Russian agents used the Novichok nerve agent to take him out. Navalny actually called the FSB (the modern iteration of the KGB) and got it to admit to the attempted murder.

In spite of these clear and obvious threats to his life, Navalny returned to Russia in 2021, where he was arrested and sent to an Arctic prison. Biden, in the advent of Putin’s imprisonment of his political opposition, warned the dictator that should Navalny die, there would be repercussions that would be devastating for Russia.

Navalny served out his sentence probably with the knowledge that his days were numbered, though it took a couple of years for that to come to fruition. A day before his death, Navalny appeared before a judge and was the picture of health. After his death, Russian authorities claimed that Navalny died due to a “sudden incident.”

What has followed after that for Navalny’s family has been horrific. Putin issued an arrest warrant for Navalny’s brother. Alexei’s mother was bullied by FSB agents wanting to force her to hold a private funeral. Navalny’s body has reportedly been turned over to his mother, but it remains to be seen if we’ll ever know the true cause of death. For those still confused about Vladimir Putin, no, he is not a good guy. He has been exploiting what he perceives as a weakening of the West — Navalny being part of the puzzle and a more successful offensive in Ukraine being another.

The new sanctions that are being brought against Putin would target the Russian financial and defense sectors. As Biden stated: “These sanctions will target individuals connected to Navalny’s imprisonment as well as Russia’s financial sector, defense industrial base, procurement networks and sanctions evaders across multiple continents. They will ensure Putin pays an even steeper price for his aggression abroad and repression at home.”

However, like all of Biden’s “shows of strength,” it’s all symbolic; there is no real bite to them. The sanctions will likely only have a short-term impact and nothing like the devastation he promised.

If one were to believe The Wall Street Journal’s interpretation of why the sanctions are little better than rubber teeth, it’s because the House won’t pass the foreign aid bill that would give Ukraine $60 billion and Israel $14 billion, along with other various pork including aid to Gaza (which can really be understood as aid to Hamas).

Like most things in foreign policy, it’s never as simple as sending money. Money might help the Ukrainians further weaken Russian troops, or those funds might disappear into the pockets of the Ukrainian elites before they make a tactical retreat should the war go south for them. There is a fundamental weakness in the Biden administration’s approach to addressing enemies, both foreign and domestic. In fact, on the domestic front, it confuses ordinary moms with domestic terrorists. So it’s hardly surprising that this large number of sanctions isn’t actually going to do much to chasten Putin.

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