6 April 2018   Leave a comment

The US has issued sanctions on a number of Russian individuals and enterprises.  According to the US Treasury Department, the sanctions are designed to isolate those individuals and enterprises from any assets located within US jurisdiction and to penalize non-US organizations from making any transactions with those entities:

“All assets subject to U.S. jurisdiction of the designated individuals and entities, and of any other entities blocked by operation of law as a result of their ownership by a sanctioned party, are frozen, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from dealings with them.  Additionally, non-U.S. persons could face sanctions for knowingly facilitating significant transactions for or on behalf of the individuals or entities blocked today.”

The justifications for the sanctions are quite broad and cover a range of Russian activities, including interference in the US presidential election of 2016:

“The Russian government engages in a range of malign activity around the globe, including continuing to occupy Crimea and instigate violence in eastern Ukraine, supplying the Assad regime with material and weaponry as they bomb their own civilians, attempting to subvert Western democracies, and malicious cyber activities.  Russian oligarchs and elites who profit from this corrupt system will no longer be insulated from the consequences of their government’s destabilizing activities.”

The list  consists of individuals very close to Russian President Putin, including his son-in-law, but does not include Putin himself, an inexplicable omission.  The Russians usually reciprocate to these types of actions, and we should expect retaliation.  But the US is less vulnerable to economic sanctions from Russia since, aside from oil and gas investments, there is relatively little US exposure in Russia.  Much depends on whether Europe joins in on the sanctions, but Europe is far more susceptible to Russian retaliation.


Robin Wright is a distinguished analyst of Middle Eastern politics and she has written an essay for the New Yorker on the split between US President Trump and the US military on the wisdom of keeping troops in Syria.  The US has little to show for its limited intervention in the civil war which has raged since 2011 and from that perspective a US withdrawal will not change the most likely outcome which is that Syrian President Assad will remain in office.  But a US withdrawal will also make it easier for some of the players–specifically Russia, Turkey, and Iran–to impose their wills on the region.  It is not at all clear what aspirations these countries have in Syria (some of those aspirations may in fact conflict).  But a US withdrawal will also leave US allies–the Kurds, Israel, and Saudi Arabia– in the lurch. Wright points out the possible consequences:

“The U.S. decision came on the same day that the leaders of Russia, Iran, and Turkey met in Ankara to discuss their next steps on Syria. The troika has virtually hijacked a peace effort long led by the United Nations. At a press conference afterward, President Vladimir Putin of Russia said that the three nations had agreed to expand and consolidate their efforts in post-conflict Syria. U.S. officials have been concerned that an imminent U.S. withdrawal could clear the way for Russia and Iran, particularly, to control the future Syrian political landscape, with military bases and access to the Mediterranean—a geostrategic game-changer.”

It is very difficult for me to speculate on managing such a shift in the regional balance of power, but it is likely that Israel and Saudi Arabia will feel more threatened by it and therefore more likely to take action themselves to change the balance back into their favor.


Rana Dasgupta has written a fascinating essay for The Guardian on the coming demise of the nation-state.  The end of the nation-state has been predicted many times over the last 50 years and thus far the nation-state has remained viable and, in some respects, grown stronger.  Dasgupta makes an insightful argument about the possible “end-run” around the power of nation-states by financial elites who seek to deny resources to the state to maintain its power.  The argument is intriguing, but hard to measure:

“For increasing numbers of people, our nations and the system of which they are a part now appear unable to offer a plausible, viable future. This is particularly the case as they watch financial elites – and their wealth – increasingly escaping national allegiances altogether. Today’s failure of national political authority, after all, derives in large part from the loss of control over money flows. At the most obvious level, money is being transferred out of national space altogether, into a booming ‘offshore’ zone. These fleeing trillions undermine national communities in real and symbolic ways. They are a cause of national decay, but they are also a result: for nation states have lost their moral aura, which is one of the reasons tax evasion has become an accepted fundament of 21st-century commerce.”

The denial of financial resources could in fact debilitate the nation-state, but regulating off-shore financial centers is not an impossible task.  The question is whether nation-states have sufficient will to preserve themselves.

Posted April 6, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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