Wednesday

27th Jan 2021

Opinion

Will EU join new US sanctions on Putin elite?

  • Being friends with Russian leader Putin could become expensive under US measures (Photo: premier.gov.ru)

On 28 July 2017, the US Senate adopted the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) overwhelmingly with 98 votes against two. On 2 August, president Donald Trump quietly signed this act into law without any of the usual brouhaha.

CAATSA contains sanctions against three countries - Iran, Russia, and North Korea. The sanctions against Russia are the most important, being the most voluminous and expansive.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Congress passed CAATSA to bypass Trump (Photo: kremlin.ru)

In recent years, the executive - the White House - and not the Congress has managed most US sanctions. The president has issued an executive order, or decree, and the department of the treasury, the state department, or the department of commerce has specified the sanctions.

The reason was that it has proven difficult to reverse sanctions imposed by Congress. The outstanding example is the Jackson-Vanik amendment to the US trade act of 1974. It forced the USSR to allow emigration of Jews, but it still applies to several former Soviet republics long after the end of the USSR and any problem of Jewish emigration.

Various congressmen from both parties drafted legislation on sanctions against Russia, but they quietly dropped them when the Barack Obama-era White House explained that it would do what they wanted in any case. While the Congress trusted president Obama, it did not trust president Trump, so it adopted CAATSA.

The Congress feared that Trump would swiftly end Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia by decree, as he threatened to do. It codified these sanctions so that the president cannot end these sanctions without the explicit approval of the Congress.

CAATSA has several serious implications for Europe. When Congress adopts a law, its natural ambition is to proceed. This act contains eight sections that call for reporting or actions.

The different actions have to be taken from 30 days to one year from the adoption of the law. Even if the US administration proposes the actual sanctions, the US Congress drives the process. The administration cannot ignore strong bipartisan views, and the Congress finds it hard enough to coordinate within itself.

To date, the most significant measure is that the US state department on October 27 named 41 Russia entities in the defence and intelligence sector, according to CAATSA section 231. These were all expected state-owned bodies.

On 31 October, according to sections 225 and 232, CAATSA led to a minor tightening of the oil sanctions, blocking some of Russian oil firm Rosneft's offshore drilling in the Black Sea. Germans have raised concerns that section 232 would be used against the construction of Nord Stream 2, a Russian gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea, but that will hardly be the case.

Cooperation dwindling

While these three early examples have been of little significance, they show how EU-US coordination of Ukraine-related sanctions on Russia is dwindling.

Without public explanation, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson abolished the coordinating office of the director of sanctions at the state department. Under Obama, a senior diplomat, Daniel Fried, held that post. He had been ambassador to Poland, senior director for Europe at the National Security Council, and assistant secretary of state for Europe.

Tillerson has delegated that task to deputy director of the secretary's policy planning staff, David Tessler.

He is highly qualified with a distinguished career at the Department of the Treasury, as senior advisor to the director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and then as senior advisor to the under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, but he does not have Fried's formal authority.

Coordination is further complicated by CAATSA giving different authorities the task of reporting on the eight sections requiring actions, complicating coordination within the US government.

While these elements offer difficulties, neither the US administration nor the Congress have in any way indicated any objection to the European positions. The concerns are not differences of principle but problems of coordination.

Oligarch clause

The most interesting new element in CAATSA is its section 241, which mandates the administration to submit to the Congress within 180 days "identification of the most significant senior foreign political figures and oligarchs in the Russian Federation, as determined by their closeness to the Russian regime and their net worth." 

The deadline falls on 29 January.

Together with Fried and two other Russia experts, Andrei Illarionov and Andrei Piontkovsky, I have argued that the US should focus on people who have made their money on close connections with Russian president Vladimir Putin and other Kremlin leaders, rather than on rich Russians who have made their money through entrepreneurship.

However the US administration policy comes out, the EU will hardly be part of the discussion. Will the EU go along with the US policy line or not? More formal coordination between the EU and the US would be desirable.

Anders Aslund is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a think tank, and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University in Washington

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Stage set for Trump-Putin finale

Trump hoped to befriend Putin at a showcase summit in Helsinki, following US president's attacks on Nato and British leaders this week.

Column

BioNTech: Stop talking about their 'migration background'

I understand that the German-Turkish community - often subjected to condescension in Germany - celebrated the story. Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türecki represent scientific excellence and business success at the highest level.

Italy's return to statism spells trouble for the eurozone

There are profound questions about whether the windfall of cash from the EU coronavirus recovery fund will truly help Italy recover or whether it will cause more problems than it solves, for Rome and the rest of the eurozone.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  2. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!
  6. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice

Latest News

  1. Giuseppe Conte: scapegoat or Italy's most cunning politician?
  2. Borrell to meet Lavrov, while Navalny behind bars
  3. Too few central and eastern Europeans at top of EU
  4. Rift widens on 'returns' deadline in EU migration pact
  5. EU adds new 'dark red' zone to travel-restrictions map
  6. Migrants in Bosnia: a disaster foretold on EU doorstep
  7. Navalny protests sharpen EU sanctions talks
  8. Why Russia politics threaten European security

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us