OPINION: Don’t Give Putin the Satisfaction Of Sanction Policies That Hurt US Energy Interests

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James 'Spider' Marks Major General, Ret.
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Nearly 200 years ago, military theorist Carl Von Clausewitz observed that “war is politics by other means.” His dictum remains relevant today. It seems that imposing economic sanctions is war by other means.

As the United States considers new sanctions aimed at Russia, lawmakers must be mindful that wars always inflict collateral damage, the unintended consequences of combat.

Quite justifiably, Americans want Russia to pay a price for continuing its gangster like international behavior which sadly goes unchecked: annexing Crimea, trying to influence our elections with cyberwarfare, and enabling the monstrous behavior of Bashar al Assad’s crimes against the Syrian people.

Russia must change its behavior. Economic sanctions are a legitimate and useful tool but imposing them must rely on a narrowly defined set of objectives and precise implementation. Frankly, in matters of national security, our Congress leads with its head understanding that passion is essential but insufficient.

The brutal cut from the blade of a saber aimed at the heart of Russia’s economic interests is needed. Unfortunately, the unilateral sanctions proposals Congress is currently considering are sabers that cut both ways.

This is especially evident in the energy sector, which is obviously critical to Russia’s economic and strategic interests.

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham has termed his Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression (DASKA) Act, co-sponsored by New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez as the “sanctions bill from hell.” It would bar U.S. investments in goods, services, technology, financing or support that would contribute to Russia’s state-owned energy companies’ ability to develop crude oil resources in Russia.

The Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines (DETER) Act, sponsored by Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Maryland Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen, would require the Treasury Department to impose severe sanctions on Russia if the U.S. Director of National Intelligence detects any election meddling. It would also effectively force American firms involved in joint energy ventures with Russian companies to exit those projects.

In the short run, the specter of unilateral U.S. disengagement from major energy exploration and recovery projects could trigger disruptions in global supply chains and exacerbate energy price volatility.

During a hearing on Russian sanctions measures last week, former Assistant Secretary of State for European and Asian Affairs Dan Fried told Senate Banking Committee members that sanctions targeting current energy production could panic markets and drive up prices, giving the Putin regime a windfall.

In addition, if the DETER Act became law, American companies in the energy sector could take a $100-billion hit over the next ten years, according to the National Foreign Trade Council. Its sanctions and proscriptions on U.S. companies would apply to projects not only in Russia but also in locales outside of Russia. This would certainly be unwelcome news for the 250,000 Floridians employed in the energy sector.

Of perhaps graver concern is the fact that Saudi Arabia, Iran, China and other unscrupulous players would gladly cash in on partnering with Russia and expand their ability to call the shots in this strategically important arena. Nothing would please Moscow and Beijing more than the chance to further undermine U.S. international influence.

There are better ways to hit Russia where it hurts. For example, the Cyber Defense and Response Act, co-sponsored by Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner and Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons, provides more flexibility than the other two bills to isolate and punish Russia for specific cybercrimes. Additionally, it would begin a long overdue process to establish governance or, more specifically, costs, associated with behavior online.

Cyber remains the one ungoverned domain of war and, not surprisingly, is the predominant domain for interaction among nations and non-state actors. With this cyber legislation, we can target specific bad actors within Russia and curtail Russia’s access to the international financial system.

Russian oligarchs do not care about the daily struggles of average Russians. But if they are punished — if their ill-gotten gains are threatened — they will pay attention and try to find ways to relieve the pain. In the energy arena, multi-lateral policies to restrict Russia’s access to sophisticated technology would undercut its plans to profit from its oil and gas reserves. Sanctions conceived and executed the right way, and on multilateral basis sanctions, would make Russia, and not the U.S. and our allies, feel the bite.

Putin is methodically seeking to undermine America’s domestic cohesion and its influence in the world so he can arguably reconstitute the Soviet Union.  Bipartisanship on Russian sanctions shows American will not remain passive in the face of Russia’s many international crimes.

Congress is acting honorably, aggressively, but, sadly, ill-advisedly with these two proposed legislative initiatives. Congress and the Trump administration must embrace a sanctions regime that puts the squeeze on Putin and not U.S. companies and workers.

Major Gen. James “Spider” Marks (U.S. Army, ret.) is president of The Marks Collaborative.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.