Russia Warns U.S., Sanctions Will Affect Cooperation on Syria
Curtis A. Ward
The Russian Government, in response to new U.S. sanctions on members of Russia’s financial sector, imposed on December 23, 2016, warns the Obama Administration of the sanctions’ adverse effect on Russian cooperation on Syria. A statement by the official representative of Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Alexander Lukashevik warned specifically that, “If the Administration continues to follow such vicious way, it will affect adversely our cooperation on Syrian question, and on overall climate of Russian-American relations which are going through challenging times.” Lukashevik’s statement did not provide any details.
However, in making this statement so explicit in terms of future Russian-United States relations, Russian president Vladimir Putin is no doubt sending a message to U.S. president-elect Donald Trump to reverse the course taken by President Barack Obama. It also raises further questions as to whether Trump will be able to deliver, even as Republican hawks in the Senate call for more robust action against the Syrian regime. In order to act against the Syrian government, short of military action, sanctions are the most viable tools available. And, there are few options available to stop Syria’s Bashar al-Assad without imposing sanctions against his Russian supporters and enablers.
The headline of today’s article could well have been “Obama Administration Relentlessly Pursues Russian Financial Sector.” The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced designation of 18 individuals and five entities pursuant to Executive Order (E.O) 13582 making them subject to U.S. sanctions. Although these new sanctions designations are in response “to the continued acts of violence committed by the Government of Syria,” and the individuals and entities are designated for providing support or services to Bashar al-Assad’s regime, nine of the designated individuals comprise the top management of Tempbank, a Russian bank with operations in a number of countries around the world and a major financial transactions facilitator of the Syrian government.
These new designations expand the net of sanctions imposed on Russia’s financial sector. This group includes Tempbank’s three Executive Board Deputy Chairmen and its six Supervisory Board members. They join Tempbank and its Executive Board Chairman Michail Gagloev designated by OFAC in May 2014 “for providing material support and services to the Government of Syria, including the Central Bank of Syria and SYTROL, Syria’s state oil marketing firm.” These most recent designees also included six Syrian top government officials and a number of Syrian government entities.
The effects of the sanctions on those designated are immediate. Any property or interests in property owned by these Individuals and entities in the possession or control of U.S. persons (individuals or entities) within the United States are blocked. Transactions by U.S. individuals and entities and the designated persons are prohibited. Blocking of property includes freezing of all assets owned by designated persons that are within U.S. jurisdiction.
The Russian Foreign Ministry’s statement described the new sanctions as, “the line of Washington’s extraterritorial application of its national law violating all commonly accepted norms of international law.” When considering the gross violations of international law and norms by the Russian-supported al-Assad’s regime, such a line of criticism by the Russian Government rings hallow. However, the warning about the adverse effect of the sanctions on future Russian cooperation with the United States must be taken seriously. With president-elect Trump stating that he wants to work with Putin to solve the crisis in Syria, the response by the future Trump administration will be worth watching.
For further discussions of the issues regarding U.S. sanctions against Russian individuals and economic sectors, see “Obama Sticks it to Trump’s Russian Partner”, “Trump v. Congress on New Russian Sanctions” and “Will Trump Fall on the Sanctions Sword” published in The Ward Post.
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward, B.A., J.D., LL.M., is an attorney and international consultant, and Adjunct Professor in the Homeland Security Graduate Program at the University of the District of Columbia. As former Ambassador of Jamaica to the United Nations he served two years on the U.N. Security Council. He was Expert Adviser to the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee for three years. He specializes in terrorism/counterterrorism legal and policy frameworks; anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism (AML/CFT); sanctions implementation; crime and security; human rights, rule of law and governance.