The new anti-Russian sanctions, imposed under various pretexts no longer related to Ukraine, have triggered heated debates on their nature and possible consequences. Politicians and experts often blame them on the U.S. domestic policy. If slightly exaggerated, the logic of these sanctions would boil down to the simple fact that Trump, who is set for cooperation, is restrained by the Russophobic Congress, American mass media and security agencies.
Some hope that relations with the United States may normalize relatively soon, counting on the consolidation of Trump’s political positions and on his “common sense” and awareness that the time of American hegemony is coming to an end. Others expect no improvement, but they, too, link sanctions to the spiraling internal political struggle before the forthcoming legislative elections in the U.S. They believe that Trump is trying to keep ahead by picking up on the popular anti-Russian theme and showing that he can beat his opponents in Congress at their own game.
But these speculations neglect the fact that Trump is not only a political fighter struggling to survive in the Washington jungle but also a committed advocate of the U.S. global hegemony. His criticism of liberal free traders and democratizers is not that of an isolationist but of a superpower nationalist. Trump’s notorious respect for Putin (and vice versa) stems from ideological kinship, not from affinity of interests. Nationalism means fierce competition for one’s interests. This is the kind of normalization Trump has in mind when he seeks to push into new markets and unashamedly weaken competitors. He uses a wide range of instruments to this end, including political pressure and a threat of military intervention as well as various sanctions and trade restrictions.
In a world still dominated by the American dollar and corporations, it is financial and economic measures that are expected to buttress the teetering U.S. hegemony. Trump is in no way opposed to anti-Russian sanctions as some imagine in hope that he could be instrumental in overcoming the crisis in bilateral relations. He is prepared, both ideologically and psychologically, to slap strong economic sanctions not only on China, North Korea, Iran, and Turkey, but also allied European countries which fail to share his views. Trump is ready to “get along” with Putin only on his own terms which would doom Russia to be a country obliged to help the United States put pressure on its competitors and fully embrace the U.S. global hegemony.
As long as the U.S. economy shows signs of growth and the opponents of American neomercantilism remain disunited, the strategy of sanctions will benefit America. Non-Western countries led by China could block this strategy, but they are still readying politically and psychologically, while Europeans either give round or are unable to protect their business from American pressure. This is clearly borne out by the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran deal and European companies’ decision to leave Iran despite the EU’s efforts to fight back. If Trumps continues to strengthen his political positions in the country after the November congressional elections, his opponents in Washington may make a truce with him but economic pressure on Russia will continue.
Russia’s response is unlikely to be symmetrical even though the Foreign Ministry has warned of tit-for-tat measures. In fact, such measures would make no sense, given the asymmetry in relations with the United States. Moreover, a symmetrical response in the strictly hierarchical international system would be a trap set to weaken Russia. The Kremlin’s policy in recent years, including covert military, information, and digital countermeasures, has been based on the understanding that symmetrical confrontation would be perilous. Interestingly, there has been no response to the U.S. Congress’ April sanctions and the Duma’s initial draft law on counter-sanctions was carefully smoothed over to delete any reference to a symmetrical response.
The Kremlin is also aware of the fact that the U.S. may keep cranking up economic pressure all the way to what Dmitry Medvedev has called economic war. There can be no one-off response to such pressure, which means that Russia may resort to long-term asymmetrical countermeasures in areas that are sensitive to the U.S. A proper response should be comprehensive to include measures designed to reorganize international political, economic and financial relations, develop and coordinate contacts with countries that oppose U.S. neo-mercantilistic hegemony, and redouble efforts to bolster the internal and regional markets of economic ties.
The commentary was originally written for the Valdai International Discussion Club http://ru.valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/sanktsii-i-gegemoniya-ssha/