The U.S. plans to impose new sanctions against Russia this week in a move that would directly target the country’s business elite, according to multiple media outlets.
The aggressive sanctions aimed at wealthy oligarchs with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin are economic in nature, the Washington Post and Reuters reports. USA TODAY has reached out to the State Department and the U.S. Treasury for confirmation. The State Department declined to comment Wednesday evening.
The planned sanctions are authorized under a law passed overwhelmingly by Congress last August, which required President Trump to name wealthy Russians close to Putin, and allowed him to impose sanctions on those people. The Treasury Department issued such a list in February, but the public version of the “Putin list” appeared to be based on a Forbes report of Russia’s rich and famous.
The classified version of that report was “a serious look at Putin’s power structure, people in an out of government who are part of his circle,” said Daniel Fried, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank.
“Going after them sends a message that Putin cannot protect his own people,” said Fried, who recently retired from the State Department, where he directed sanctions policy. That would demonstrate that “when Putin attacks the West, that doesn’t go cost free and that’s a very important message,” he said.
President Trump has received significant backlash from politicians, including Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz, for not sanctioning Putin’s cronies at the time, and for his ongoing desire to “get along” with the Russian leader.
On Tuesday, Trump told the leaders of the Baltic States — Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia — that he has been tough on threats from Russia, but said a better relationship with Putin would be “a good thing.”
In his final public remarks as national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster said in a speech on Tuesday that the U.S. and other nations had failed to be tough enough against Russia’s “pernicious” aggression that combines political, economic and cyber attacks on democratic countries.
The outgoing national security adviser warned against those in the U.S. who would “glamorize and apologize” for rogue regimes like Russia.
“For too long, some nations have looked the other way in the face of these threats,” McMaster told an Atlantic Council gathering in Washington Tuesday night. “Russia brazenly, and implausibly denies its actions, and we have failed to impose sufficient costs.”
White House aides have defended Trump’s handling of Russia, pointing to tougher sanctions and the expulsion of 60 diplomats that U.S. officials said were likely spies. Those moves were in retaliation to Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the recent poison attack on an ex-Russian spy in London.
Meanwhile, Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating any links between Trump’s campaign and Russians who sought to influence the 2016 election by hacking Democrats and pushing fake news. Trump has denied any sort of collusion with the Russians.
Brett Bruen, who served as director of global engagement in former president Barack Obama’s National Security Council, said new sanctions on Putin’s inner circle will not have the desired impact.
“We tried this,” Bruen said, referring to sanctions on Putin’s inner circle imposed to punish Russia for its seizure and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.
Russia has proven it can survive economic sanctions aimed at individuals, which so far are the only tool the West has been willing to use against it, Bruen said. Instead, the U.S. should launch an aggressive information campaign to show the Russian people how Putin’s corruption and mismanagement is hurting them and making them unsafe, he said.
“We need to show we have the capacity to hit Putin where it hurts,” he said. “Puncture this inflated propagandized public image that he has. Show who and what he is.”
Contributing: David Jackson and Gregory Korte
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