What Effect Will U.S. Sanctions Have On Russia?

Dec 30, 2016
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Professor Kimberly Marten of Barnard College is a scholar of U.S.-Russia relations, and she joins us now. Welcome to the program once again.

KIMBERLY MARTEN: Thank you.

SIEGEL: What effect do you expect these sanctions would have on Russia?

MARTEN: Well, it's not clear they'll have any immediate effect, but they might have some long-term consequences. The first is that the U.S. is willing to attribute these attacks directly to the Russian state. And that sends a message to U.S. allies, including France and Germany, who are afraid that they will have similar things happen with their own elections, and the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, where it was just announced that Fancy Bear, the GRU, was also probably responsible for attacking there. It sort of sets a precedent that means that we can take action that's not just us alone but others, as well.

Another important thing to think about is that this might lead up to cooperation because similar threats made against China in 2015 when attribution was made to China and then sanctions were threatened actually led to an agreement to stop cyber-hacking that a lot of experts believe had a significant impact on at least decreasing the threat coming from China.

SIEGEL: Today's executive order names four Russian military intelligence officer, and the Treasury Department also names two men it accuses of cybercrimes. What's the implication of naming individuals?

MARTEN: Well, I think for the two individuals who were named for having cybercrimes, it takes them from being on the FBI wanted list, where they already were, to putting them under treasury sanctions, which, again, sends a message to allies that additional organizations that are responsible for sanctioning activities in the European Union, for example, can now cooperate on trying to get them turned in.

The individuals at the top of the GRU are probably less important as individuals. It just is indicating that very top-level Russian government officials - Russian intelligence officials in the military - certainly have responsibility for this. And it sort of names it as being a Russian military action.

SIEGEL: We are approaching a collision of Russia policies in Washington. President Obama - very critical of Putin, expanding sanctions - is going out. Donald Trump - very tolerant of Russian interventions - is coming in, and he can undo the sanctions. Can you imagine him doing that?

MARTEN: I don't think so. And I think Obama was actually very wise to only target intelligence officials from Russia in these sanctions because if President-elect Trump, when he comes in, undoes these sanctions, first of all, he's going to be facing the opposition of Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, two very prominent Republicans in the Senate, Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator John McCain.

And what this means is that people who are very powerful within his own party that he's going to have to cooperate with once he comes into office are going to say, what in the world are you doing by lifting sanctions against Russian intelligence officials? It's not going to be something that has an impact on U.S. businesses. And so I think that the limitation on the sanctions actually makes a lot of political sense.

SIEGEL: Now, in addition to the sanctions, the U.S. is also kicking out 35 Russian intelligence operatives - or at least that's what it calls them - and shutting down what it calls to Russian intelligence compounds, one in New York and one in Maryland. Should we be surprised that there have been two what are called intelligence compounds, one in Maryland and one in New York?

MARTEN: Oh, I'm sure there are more intelligence compounds than those. And again, this is largely a symbolic action, but it has specifically a symbolic importance in Russia because New Years is the most important holiday in Russia. So to kick these people out within 72 hours of New Years is making it as painful as it possibly can to force them to change their location.

SIEGEL: Should we expect, though, for 35 Americans to be thrown out of Russia shortly?

MARTEN: I wouldn't be surprised if even more than 35 are thrown out because Putin has made the public statement that he will retaliate, and so he very well might do that. And again, it would have symbolic impact more than anything else.

SIEGEL: In the five-second version here, how bad are U.S.-Russian relations right now?

MARTEN: They're pretty bad. And it's not clear that Trump can fix everything because he has to deal with the political difficulties in the United States, where his own party is pretty hostile towards Russia at the moment.

SIEGEL: Professor Kimberly Marten of Barnard College and Columbia University, thanks.

MARTEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.