Biden fails the punishment test

President Biden arrives to announce further actions to hold Russia accountable for the war in Ukraine at the White House, March 8.


Oliver Contreras / Zuma Press

Friday afternoon news dumps are always revealing, and that includes the Treasury Department’s clarification last week of US sanctions on Russian banks. Don’t buy the Biden administration’s line that it is drawing backstops against Russia.

The president went on to insist he is “implementing the most important economic sanctions package in history” against Vladimir Putin’s regime. Some Biden loyalists have even turned to nationalism. Connecticut’s Chris Murphy boasted on the Senate floor last week that Biden’s “great” foreign policy had created “an unprecedented, sweeping package of sanctions that are disrupting the Russian economy.” “. The press also nodded.

Far from the reality, this explains the growing frustration in Congress – and the growing divide between Democrats and the White House. The administration refused to impose sanctions on Putin’s invasion, naively believing in diplomacy. However, even after the Russian tanks rolled – and despite months of preparation – the response was slow, timid, hostage to “multilateralism” and unwilling to attack the real motives. of the Russian economy: energy. Even the president’s own party is losing patience with his inadequate sanctions.

Consider the Treasury announcement. In late February, Mr. Biden announced sanctions targeting Russian banks. On Friday, however, the Treasury Department quietly clarified that the sanctions would not apply to banks’ energy deals until June 24 – meaning Wall Street could continue. Russian oil and gas trade. The Treasury website explains: “The energy sector of the Russian Federation economy itself is not subject to comprehensive sanctions,” the Treasury website explains, a scandalous warning that most All media ignored it.

Senator Rob Portman on Tuesday asked Deputy Foreign Minister Victoria Nuland to justify the decision to allow Russia’s energy sector to pass in four months. She explained that working “multilaterally” remains a top priority, so “we have agreed to do a phase” at the behest of energy-dependent “European allies”.

Mr. Biden belatedly announced a ban on Russian oil and gas this week – but only because Democrats and Republicans in Congress are united to pass legislation forcing him to take action. Even Speaker Nancy Pelosi supported the ban and is said to have refused to agree to the White House’s request to repeal it. The Biden team scrambled to get ahead of Congress by declaring an embargo.

The White House has also asked congressional Democrats to reject a bipartisan bill that would suspend Russia’s preferential trade status with the US – again, apparently to discuss the issue with Europe. The good news is that lawmakers on both sides said this weekend that they remained undeterred and could pass trade restrictions next week – potentially forcing Mr. Biden to step out again.

The White House is moving anyway, blocking a Republican bill from Senator Jim Risch that would impose real sanctions on the US oil, gas, mining and minerals sectors. Russia. It is aimed at financiers. It will create a rental program to ensure Ukraine will continue to obtain the necessary military resources. Crucially, it provides “secondary sanctions” against global institutions that fund the Russian economy. As Risch notes, these secondary sanctions will “force financial institutions around the world to choose between Russia and Western markets” and ultimately “isolate” the Russian economy.

The White House is against all of this because they are against the Russian oil embargo. Actual sanctions against Russia’s energy sector remain a worry for Old European allies who want to continue importing Russian oil. The administration is also concerned that serious targeting of Russian energy will drive up gas prices further, harming Mr. Biden domestically. Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez, prior to the invasion, worked with Mr. Risch on a bipartisan bill. By order of the White House, he AWOL and Democrats last week blocked a vote on the Risch law.

Republicans note that for all the talk of multilateralism, the US is lagging behind Europe in other areas. Since February, the European Union has imposed sanctions on at least 12 financiers out of 35 Navalny, a list of key Putin aides organized by the dissident organization. General Alexei Navalny. The UK has targeted nine of them since February; United States, zero. Yes, Washington has targeted a handful of Putin associates, but that’s only a fraction of the hundreds of oligarchs holding Russian assets. However, it did announce a “task force” to investigate oligarchic behavior. Twenty-two years into the Putin regime, the US government does not have that information?

The Biden team would argue that sanctions work best when combined with allies. No doubt about it. But the way to get the world to participate in punishing and isolating the real Putin is to set an example and invite or shame allies into the war. That’s not the current approach, it’s to soak in the halls of Foggy Bottom and find the path of least resistance. Mr. Biden can say all he wants about Mr. Putin’s plan to cripple the economy. He has yet to take the steps that are actually doable.

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The Journal’s Editorial Report: World leaders change course, but not Joe Biden. Image: AFP / Getty Images Synthesis: Mark Kelly

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Appears in print March 11, 2022. Biden fails the punishment test

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