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The Other Russia Scandal This Week

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The Other Russia Scandal This Week

Trump officials falsely argued that sanctions on Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors were unnecessary because the mere threat of sanctions was sufficient to deter businesses from doing deals. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert claimed, for example, that “foreign governments have abandoned planned or announced purchases of several billion dollars in Russian defense acquisitions.”

 Perhaps. But aside from the fact that the sanctions, which passed last summer by an overwhelming margin in Congress, were not optional, the evidence suggests Russia’s defense industry is not being deterred from entering new markets. Far from it: Russia is currently in talks with Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar—both traditional U.S. arms purchasers—to supply sophisticated S-400 air defense systems, while Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation, a major defense contractor, decided just this month to market new airplanes in Europe and North America. Financial markets also read the administration’s decision to forgo sanctions as a green light, with yields on Russian bonds sinking to the lowest point since the 2014 invasion of Crimea.

Regarding the requirement to compile a “Kremlin list” of corrupt officials, the administration decided to take the easy way out, and simply released a list of officials that could easily have been a copy-and-paste job of the Kremlin phone book and the Forbes Top 100 list of Russian oligarchs. No details on corruption were made public, thereby completely defeating the purpose of the report—naming and shaming those enabling bad behavior in Moscow, and thus establishing a basis for future sanctions against them.

Despite having enormous asymmetric power at its disposal, including the power to block all transactions going through the U.S. financial system, this White House has proven completely unwilling to impose meaningful costs on Russia in response to its assault on our institutions. Meanwhile, the Kremlin’s war machine is still operating in full swing in Ukraine and Syria while defense-sector revenues support Russia’s military modernization, including the development of new systems like treaty-banned intermediate-range cruise missiles that could target U.S. forces and allies in Central Europe and East Asia.

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