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Imposing New Russia Sanctions Is Insane

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. 

As the Ukraine war enters its third year, the Biden administration unveiled its most extensive sanctions package to date, this time to punish Putin for the death of opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny.

President Biden announced the move.

Today, I am announcing more than 500 new sanctions against Russia for its ongoing war of conquest on Ukraine and for the death of Aleksey Navalny, who was a courageous anti-corruption activist and Putin's fiercest opposition leader. These sanctions will target individuals connected to Navalny's imprisonment as well as Russia's financial sector, defense industrial base, procurement networks, and sanctions evaders across multiple continents. They will ensure Putin pays an even steeper price for his aggression abroad and repression at home.

The Biden administration has been pursuing the most stringent sanctions regime against any country in American history - over 2,500 sanctions against Russia in just two years - all for Moscow’s merciless and illegal invasion of Ukraine. But for Biden to dramatically intensify American sanctions to punish Putin for the death of an opposition leader demonstrates to leading powers of the Global South that America's concerns about Navalny's well-being were significantly broader than him just being Russia's best chance for a democratic future. In 2020, Russia had gone so far as to claim that the CIA was working with Navalny. All of a sudden, this claim did not feel far-fetched, given how the New York Times says that for over a decade, the United States has nurtured a secret intelligence partnership with Ukraine to fight Putin.

Authoritarian countries like China, Saudi Arabia, and various Middle Eastern nations are perennially concerned about opposition leaders in their own countries who receive Western support, so many may be sympathetic to Putin's actions, especially if Navalny was a spy. Even a vibrant democracy like India has pushed back on allegations about its treatment of Khalistan leaders abroad (who envision a Sikh region that can secede from India), maintaining that as a sovereign nation, India has the right to pursue all actions necessary to protect its homeland.  

Global South capitals also find the actions of Biden and his allies deeply hypocritical. As we noted in a recent editorial, the Left's lawfare treatment of former President Trump is not that different from Russia's treatment of Navalny, although Trump has not yet been physically harmed by the ongoing lawfare.

Judge Ergoran has fined Trump $355 million, which, along with interest payments, amounts to $450 million, a sum close to Trump's cash assets. The idea is to cripple Trump's wealth. Ergoran has further tightened the noose on Trump by forbidding his children from running the business. The prosecutor, Letitia James, told ABC News that she would seize Trump's assets if Trump didn't put up a bond before the 30-day deadline. Two weeks after Trump is expected to win enough delegates to win the nomination on Super Tuesday, he is scheduled to be tried in a criminal court of law in New York in a different case. This targeted lawfare is against the former President of the United States and a person leading in the polls in a general election matchup against the sitting President, not any opposition leader. If Biden wants to punish Putin for his attacks on an opposition leader, how come Biden himself is weaponizing his DOJ to attack his rival? 

Biden's sanctions decision was bizarre in that it would further drive Russia into the waiting embrace of the Global South, India, and China, widening the abyss with the United States. These countries have helped Russia bypass Western sanctions for the last two years by actively engaging with the beleaguered nation, consuming Russia's exports, and selling Russia crucial items that it wants. In the face of the latest sanctions, they will be even more ready to support Russia, weakening the sanctions' impact.   

Besides, we have repeatedly noted that Western sanctions have failed to contain Russia and resulted in unintended consequences. In April 2023, we opined that America's sanctions are driving countries away from the dollar. The following month, we noted Western sanctions are biting the West more than Russia. 

In "Why Sanctions Haven't Hobbled Russia," the New York Times took a detailed, old-style-journalism look at two years of Western sanctions on the country and concluded accurately that Moscow's continued strength is a humbling result for the U.S. and its allies. "Its economy is growing steadily. Russia can't buy much from the West but has found new providers for drones, surveillance gear, computer chips, and other gear. Its oil and gas sales are still strong, despite attempts to stop them. Russian officials say they have plenty of money to pay for their war."

The latest Biden announcement amounted to Albert Einstein's classic definition of insanity:

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. 

Wally Adeyemo, the deputy Treasury secretary, whose primary role in the Biden administration has been to be Janet Yellen's sidekick and travel the world to sell sanctions, was his usual self, full of hubris, anticipating that the latest sanctions set would "throw sand in the gears" of Russia's military. This was the same official who championed Yellen's price cap on Russian oil as a means to curtail Russian revenues and strangle Russian military investments. The Times reported in a different story that Russian oil export income is higher than before the invasion - so much for the effect of the price cap.

In our 2-year report card on the second anniversary of Russia's thoughtless and illegal invasion of Ukraine, we gave a failing or near-failing grade to nearly every dimension of the West's conduct of the war. 

American and European taxpayers have sent $200 billion in weapons and logistical support to help Ukraine - yet Ukraine has lost nearly 13% more territory than it had when Russia first invaded. Meanwhile, Russia continues to grind on, taking more territory, as Ukraine finally withdrew from the strategically crucial frontline city of Avdiivka. Kyiv is running out of soldiers; the average age of fighters is now above 42. The hard truth is that Russia is prevailing, and Ukraine and the West are losing.

Biden officials are aware that nearly every action of theirs regarding Ukraine, going back to November 2021 before even a single shot was fired, has been a disaster. But the administration is too proud and arrogant to either admit fault or course-correct. If anything, they keep doubling down and doing the same things repeatedly and more intensely.

Einstein would be turning in his grave.

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