U.S. lawmakers and former diplomats on Thursday urged tougher sanctions against Russia but stressed the need to craft measures that will get the Kremlin’s attention without harming the United States or its European allies.
“There is no question [Russian President Vladimir] Putin must pay for his actions, and the United States has the ability to impose real costs against Moscow,” the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Republican Mike Crapo of Idaho, said at a hearing.
“We seek real and immediate changes in Russian behavior,” said the committee’s top Democrat, Sherrod Brown of Ohio. “We’re not yet seeing it.”
Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul urged lawmakers to put more pressure on Russia during Thursday’s hearing.
“For crimes, there must be punishment. I urge you to do more.”
The United States has imposed a series of punitive measures against Russia in recent years over its alleged human rights violations, Moscow’s involvement in Ukraine and Syria, its meddling in U.S. elections, and Russia helping North Korea evade international sanctions.
“Whatever economic effects these sanctions have had over the last year, it has escaped no one’s attention that Russia is still in Crimea, and the Kremlin still exercises violently destabilizing activities in Ukraine and Syria,” Crapo said.
Experts told the committee that existing sanctions have inflicted pain but have not crippled Russia.
“Russia may not be thriving, but it is surviving,” said Rachel Ziemba, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. “Attempts to impose significant economic shock may require more increasingly blunt measures.”
Heather Conley, former deputy assistant secretary of state for Eurasian affairs, agreed.
“Russia is economically stable. Our economic sanctions have little effect on either the regime’s economy or its behavior,” she said. “This is not a regime that is tiring. It is a regime that is ready for the long haul.”
But McFaul argued sanctions have not failed entirely.
“Putin is annoyed by these sanctions,” the former ambassador said. “Putin is trying to overturn them and has been courting President [Donald] Trump precisely to do that. If they didn’t matter, why would he be putting so much energy into it?”
Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asked for specific suggestions for further sanctions that would effectively punish Moscow but not produce negative unintended consequences.
“Getting this right matters, and anything we do to punish Russia that also punishes Europe actually accrues to Russia’s benefit,” Corker said.
“We should go after Putin’s cronies,” former State Department sanctions coordinator Daniel Fried said. “The Russians [oligarchs] park their money in Miami, New York and London. We shouldn’t let them do it. We should expose this.”
Fried discouraged broad sanctions against Russia’s energy sector, arguing they could drive up global energy prices and, paradoxically, improve Russia’s finances.
A bipartisan Senate proposal would impose an array of sanctions on Russian business interests if Moscow is found to have meddled in upcoming U.S. elections, a concept that was endorsed at the hearing.
“The U.S. Congress and President Trump must sign into law sanctions that would trigger automatically in response to future belligerent behavior,” McFaul said. But he added, “Future sanctions should primarily be targeted at the Russian government and its proxies, not the people of Russia or the private sector.”
Brown called on Congress and the president to send a “more powerful and direct message” to Putin and those within his circles.
“If you continue cyberattacks against us, you and your government will pay a heavy economic, diplomatic, political price.”