OPINION: A new round of US sanctions against Russia rubber-stamped by US President Joe Biden on Thursday is unlikely to put any curbs on Kremlin-sponsored malign activities, inside or outside the country.
The measures blacklist over 30 Russian companies and affiliated individuals accused of attempting to influence the US elections last year.
They also expel 10 Russian diplomats from the country and prohibit US banks from buying rouble-denominated Russian government bonds, although no prominent oil and gas industry companies or individuals have been targeted.
Moscow will not miss the opportunity to exploit the situation for its propaganda potential. The sanctions will be used by the Kremlin and state-controlled media as evidence that confirms their depiction of a Russia "surrounded by enemies”.
Authorities in Russia have increasingly been using the police force to crack down on the independent opposition movement and freedom of speech.
Russia has snubbed recent rulings by the European Court for Human Rights, including a demand for the immediate release of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who was jailed earlier this year upon his return to the country after being airlifted unconscious from Omsk to Berlin in August last year following a poisoning attempt.
But Biden still hopes to establish dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin, putting in a direct call to him earlier this week to explain the reasons for new sanctions.
Biden has avoided including Nord Stream 2 — the controversial Russian gas export pipeline across the Baltic Sea — in the new round of sanctions, saying that the matter still needs to be discussed with European allies.
Additionally, there are no new Russian billionaires close to Putin and the Kremlin on the list of sanctioned individuals, despite persistent calls from opposition leaders to blacklist businessmen who support the Kremlin’s crackdown on its critics and freedoms.
Although Biden says he knows Putin well, his recent answer in the affirmative to a question on whether he considers Putin “a killer” was taken as a personal insult to the Russian president.
Defectors from Putin’s inner circle have repeatedly pointed to his resentfulness and unwillingness to pardon his critics.
Independent investigations have uncovered a network of Russian state security agents and research institutes that allegedly have used military-grade nerve agents to kill the president’s critics and former Russian spies who defected to the West.
Just days after the accusations were made public, Russia began moving military personnel, tanks and equipment to its western borders and the Crimean Peninsula, which it annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
Putin has repeatedly implied that he considers Ukraine a US-sponsored vassal and not an independent state.
Last week, the White House disclosed that Russia had more troops on its border with Ukraine than at any time since 2014.
The Kremlin is expected to continue the build-up of tension in the region, and new military action against Ukraine could hinge on Putin’s perception of whether it might strengthen his popularity in the country, according to Russian political observer Yulia Latynina.
The level of confrontation between the Kremlin and the West is only set to rise.
The US and Europe have a narrowing window of opportunity to discipline a Russian leader who relies more on the country’s military and intelligence might to advance his agenda than he does on diplomacy and dialogue.
(This is an Upstream opinion article.)