Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament, accused the United States of using sanctions to meddle in Russia’s internal politics. Volodin made his comments while responding to the publication of the U.S. Treasury Department’s list of Russian government officials and business people allegedly linked to the Kremlin. That list was mandated by sanctions legislation that the U.S. Congress passed last year -- the “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.”
"The sanctions imposed on Russia have long been unrelated to the formal reasons specified in the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act,” Volodin said.
According to Volodin, "the restrictions policy is a way for the U.S. leadership to impose its will on other countries to make them abandon their independent policies."
In reality, the sanctions enacted against Russia since 2014 have nothing to do with Russia’s domestic policies. The first round of sanctions against Russia imposed by the United States and its European allies were in response to Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in March 2014 and backing for armed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Then-president Barack Obama put the first round of U.S. sanctions into effect via an executive order titled “Blocking Property of Certain Persons Contributing to the Situation in Ukraine.”
The first paragraph of that order stated:
“I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, find that the actions and policies of persons -- including persons who have asserted governmental authority in the Crimean region without the authorization of the Government of Ukraine -- that undermine democratic processes and institutions in Ukraine; threaten its peace, security, stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity; and contribute to the misappropriation of its assets, constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States, and I hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat.”
The Council of Europe then followed suit, declaring:
“On 6 March 2014, the Heads of State or Government of the Union's Member States strongly condemned the unprovoked violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity by the Russian Federation and called on the Russian Federation to immediately withdraw its armed forces to the areas of their permanent stationing, in accordance with the relevant agreements. They called on the Russian Federation to enable immediate access for international monitors. The Heads of State or Government considered that the decision by the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea to hold a referendum on the future status of the territory is contrary to the Ukrainian Constitution and therefore illegal.”
In their statements, neither President Obama nor the Council of Europe referred to Russia’s domestic politics or internal affairs.
Western leaders have repeatedly signaled that they are ready to lift the earlier sanctions once Russia complies with the ceasefire agreement in eastern Ukraine and returns Crimea to Ukraine. Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made this clear while speaking at 2016’s World Economic Forum in Davos. Current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has echoed those conditions.
The more recent sanctions targeting Russia mandated under the “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” were imposed in response to its continued involvement in the wars in Ukraine and Syria and its alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Whatever the extent of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, there is no public record in Congress or from either presidential administration indicating these new sanctions are aimed at regime change or influencing Russia’s domestic politics.
The “Oligarch’s List” released this week by the U.S. Treasury Department was included in the Act. While it was widely criticized as appearing to be copied from Forbes magazine’s ranking of wealthy Russians, Western critics did not accuse Washington of meddling in Russia’s internal affairs.
The “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” act also includes sanctions targeting Iran and North Korea.