National Security

Russia Imposes More Western Sanctions

But are they only hurting themselves?

Aug. 8, 2014

Russia announced this week it is placing a ban on all U.S. and EU agricultural imports for up to one year. The move is in retaliation for heightened U.S. and European sanctions over Russia’s actions in Ukraine. In 2013, Russia imported $1 billion in U.S. agricultural products, accounting for about 10 percent of total U.S. exports to the country, so the move is unlikely to cause any serious economic damage to U.S. farmers. But Russia will probably be more hard hit by president Vladimir Putin’s petulant actions, as food prices will rise (though the Russian government claims the damage will not be long lasting). In Soviet Russia, nations’ sanctions hurt you. Russia is currently the world’s second largest agricultural importer behind China.

If it is true that Russia would experience more hardship by banning food imports, then why would the country essentially sanction itself? Putin wants to send a signal that Russia does not have to rely on Western nations for its continued growth. Instead, he wants to demonstrate that his country is indeed a powerhouse on its own that commands respect. Russia acts like a pugnacious teenager on the global economy stage, and the U.S. needs to act with conviction in the face of a country whose reasoning facilities are not all there. His recent weeklong trip to Latin America set up a series of economic development deals with Nicaragua, Argentina, Brazil and Cuba. After several years in which Cuba was basically abandoned by its former Soviet client state, Russia has reemerged as a much-needed partner for the island nation. This is considered to be a strategic move that would once again give Russia a military foothold in the Western Hemisphere, using Cuba as a port for naval vessels. Russia will also be working with these countries to develop its GLONASS positioning system, a global tracking network similar to our GPS.

Russia is clearly working to reestablish itself as a global military power, and it has been moving toward this goal on several fronts over the last few years. Military adventures in former Soviet republics like Georgia, Crimea and Ukraine demonstrate Putin’s desire to bring these nations back under the Russian umbrella. The Russian government has made substantial investments in military technology and the development of better rockets and military hardware.

In fact, the U.S. is now claiming that Russia violated the 1987 IMF Treaty by testing intermediate range rockets that were banned by the agreement. There have also been at least 16 incursions into the U.S. northwestern air defense zones in the last 10 days by Russian nuclear bombers and intelligence gathering aircraft. American military officials categorized the flights as tests of U.S. air defense response and not simple training missions. And NATO now believes Russia is preparing for a ground invasion of Ukraine, with some 20,000 Russian troops massed along the border. All it will take to send them in is a statement from Putin claiming humanitarian concerns. And the fighting in the rebel-held areas remains fierce.

There is not a lot of consensus on just how to contain Russia as it settles into a new era of imperialist adventures. American sanctions and the claim that Russia has violated the IMF Treaty are a step in the right direction, but American military power is at an historic low. An independent panel appointed by Congress and the Pentagon noted last month that Barack Obama’s downsizing of the military has left America too weak to combat the multitude of global threats we currently face. Several years of budget cuts and reductions in weapons and personnel have weakened the nation’s military, and has forced allies to question American commitments overseas.

Obama’s long string of foreign policy blunders started with the so-called reset of U.S.-Russian relations when no such reset was needed. The only thing it accomplished was to let Putin think the American president was not serious about maintaining strength overseas. Obama’s canceling of a European missile defense battery was another step in that direction. And even after notifying Russia that it violated the IMF Treaty, Obama maintains that he will continue making cuts to U.S. nuclear forces, unilaterally if necessary.

The West’s credibility is at stake here. Putin has not demonstrated any desire to dial back his saber rattling in spite of American and European fist shaking. What America needs, and currently does not have, is a policy of how to deal with Russia. “Sooner or later we are going to have to have a negotiation with the Russian government about the future of its territories,” said former ambassador to Russia James Collins. Currently, both sides are merely taking tit for tat actions without any direction or sense of how this all ends, according to Collins.

The U.S. also needs to reorient its military strategy to include a serious missile defense policy and reverse the downsizing of forces that has taken place since Obama took office. Russia, and all nations, needs to believe we are serious about maintaining world order. They will only believe that if we have the tools to make it possible.

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