It’s not easy to frame sanctions, these days. They occupy that huge, hazy diplomatic no man’s land between sternly-worded but essentially vacuous expressions of concern – grave concern, if you really want to pretend you’re serious – and sending a gunboat. When it comes to trying to make an impression on Vladimir Putin, who has no qualms about causing the West concerns – and has a good few gunboats of his own – this is a doubly-difficult challenge.
The latest US sanctions are a case in point, a mix of the cosmetic and the consequential that are more about political signalling than anything else. This is President Biden reassuring the hawkish wing of his party that he’s tough on Russia, while warning Putin that he could have gone much further. One of the problems for the administration is they are trying to formulate responses to a whole host of what it is now fashionable to call ‘malign activities.’
There are sanctions on some fringe media outlets apparently close to or run by Russian intelligence agencies accused of interfering in the 2020 elections, as well as the expulsion of ten Russian diplomats considered spies. There are quite a few measures directed against Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the (convicted) criminal turned catering magnate who is suspected of being the manager of both the ‘troll farms’ spewing out toxic social media posts to order, as well as the Wagner mercenary organisation now so active in Africa.
Following recent high-profile incidents, there are sanctions on various Russian technology companies accused of providing the Kremlin’s hackers with particular capabilities and technologies.
To remind everyone that it neither recognises or accepts the annexation of Crimea, several local officials and companies involved in building the massive new bridge connecting it to the Russian mainland are also hit.
Finally, and perhaps most interesting, the Treasury is banning