Ocnus.Net
News Before It's News
About us | Ocnus? |

Front Page 
 
 Africa
 
 Analyses
 
 Business
 
 Dark Side
 
 Defence & Arms
 
 Dysfunctions
 
 Editorial
 
 International
 
 Labour
 
 Light Side
 
 Research
Search

Dark Side Last Updated: Apr 6, 2020 - 11:33:18 AM


Kremlin Attempts to Exploit COVID-19 Crisis to Remove Sanctions on Russia and its Partners
By Mason Clark, Aleksei Zimnitca, Nataliya Bugayova, ISW. Apr 3, 2020
Apr 4, 2020 - 2:33:53 PM

Email this article
 Printer friendly page

The Kremlin is exploiting calls by the United Nations for limited sanctions waivers to combat COVID-19, to advance the Kremlin’s longstanding objective of removing international sanctions on Russia and its partners. The Kremlin has launched an information campaign on this issue and is leveraging its sanctioned allies around the world, alongside networks of Russia-amenable actors in Europe, to amplify the Kremlin’s message. The Kremlin is trying to position itself for a win-win scenario – either advancing its goal of sanctions relief or framing the US as inhumane for maintaining sanctions during a global pandemic.

The Kremlin began calling for sanctions relief over COVID-19 in mid-March. Prominent Russian Member of Parliament Sergei Kosachev called on March 18 for the total removal of all economic sanctions on Russia, except sanctions imposed by the United Nations (UN) Security Council.[1] The UN Security Council has not imposed any sanctions on Russia, meaning the Kremlin is essentially arguing for the lifting of all sanctions. The Kremlin is unlikely to attempt to limit the authority of the UN Security Council due to Russia’s status as a permanent member with veto powers. Other Russian MPs called for sanctions removal in the following days, claiming sanctions violate international law and are inhumane in the context of a global pandemic.[2]

The Kremlin has also called for sanctions relief for its allies. The Russian Foreign Ministry called on the United States to lift all sanctions on Iran on March 24.[3] Russian MPs voiced their support on March 19 for Syrian calls to remove all Western sanctions.[4] The Kremlin is likely leveraging other partners to reinforce its calls for sanctions relief. The Chinese Foreign Ministry called for the removal of all sanctions on Iran on March 16.[5] Russia and China increased diplomatic engagement throughout March in response to the COVID-19 crisis.[6]

The Kremlin exploited calls for limited sanctions relief by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Guterres sent a letter to G20 leaders on March 24 calling on countries to temporarily waive sanctions on specific industries during the COVID-19 crisis.[7] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet also called for authorization of humanitarian exemptions to sanctions on essential medical equipment and supplies on March 24.[8]

The Kremlin used these proposals as an opportunity to call for the lifting of all sanctions on Russia and its partners. Putin called on the G20 to lift – not waive – sanctions against unspecified countries on “essential goods” and financial transactions to purchase these essential goods during a remote G20 meeting on March 26.[9] Russia and six of its allies – Iran, China, Cuba, Syria, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and North Korea – additionally issued a letter on March 26 urging Guterres to request “the complete and immediate lifting of such illegal, coercive and arbitrary measures of economic pressure.”[10] Guterres has not publicly responded to the letter. The Kremlin and its allies are attempting to exploit Guterres’s legitimate call for temporary sanctions waivers to obtain the removal of all sanctions on malign actors without addressing the actions that led to the imposition of sanctions. The Kremlin argues that, due to COVID-19, all sanctions, no matter the reason for their imposition or target, are illegitimate.

The Kremlin is leveraging its network of Kremlin-amenable European public figures to amplify Russia’s calls to lift sanctions. The Kremlin likely assesses its calls to lift sanctions will be more successful if they are supported by European states, not only Russia and other sanctioned regimes. Additionally, the EU accounts for most of the sanctions on Russia and is a key player in sanctions against Iran and Syria. The Kremlin media attempted in late March to portray Germany and Italy as supportive of lifting sanctions on Russia.[11] Only three German MPs from the Kremlin-amenable Alternative for Germany (AFD) called for sanctions removal.[12] One of the MPs, Waldemar Herdt, previously traveled to Russian-occupied Crimea for an economic forum. Another AFD MP, Ulrich Oehme, may have facilitated Russian humanitarian aid to Northern Italy.[13] Similarly, in Italy, only an association of international criminal lawyers, not the government, called to lift sanctions on Russia.[14] ISW has extensively published on the Kremlin’s efforts to leverage Kremlin-amenable politicians to advance its campaigns in Ukraine, Syria, and elsewhere.[15]

The Kremlin will likely attempt to provide limited aid to individual European states to convince them to unilaterally weaken sanctions on Russia and its partners. German MP (from Angela Merkel’s CDU party) Michael Gahler suggested on March 23 that the Kremlin sent military specialists and humanitarian aid to Italy on March 21 to support COVID-19 containment in the hope that Italy will veto sanctions on Russia next time they are voted on by the EU.[16] Such deliveries are also likely intended to boost Russia’s image in Europe. However, these efforts will likely achieve minimal results due to Russia’s limited investment in them; Italian officials said that 80 percent of the Russian supplies were “useless.”[17] Nonetheless, Russia’s aid campaign demonstrates the Kremlin’s ability to leverage human networks and political partners from various theaters to support a specific information campaign.

The Kremlin’s push to lift sanctions demonstrates the Kremlin’s narrative about the irrelevance or ineffectiveness of Western sanctions is false. Vladimir Putin’s position is that sanctions only make Russia stronger through import substitution and economic independence.[18] The Kremlin’s deliberate effort to use every opportunity, including COVID-19, to weaken the sanctions regime suggests the opposite: that sanctions are a constraint that Putin would like removed. Putin additionally needs to restore the resources he needs to provide financial support to Russia’s key partner in the Middle East, Iran, and Russia’s client regime in Syria to support Russia’s objectives in the Middle East.[19]

The US is unlikely to agree to lift sanctions on Russia and other malign actors. US President Donald Trump said he expected Putin to ask for sanctions to be lifted but would not commit to a response prior to a March 30 call.[20] No concrete agreement on sanctions emerged from the call. Sanctions on Russia, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Venezuela are cornerstones of US policy against those actors. Several US congressional representatives called on US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to grant clearly outlined sanctions waivers for Iran, Venezuela, and other countries badly hit by the pandemic on March 27, similar to the proposals made by the UN.[21] The State Department has not yet responded to calls for temporary sanctions relief.

The Kremlin may successfully leverage international support to put the US in a lose-lose situation in the information space. Russia failed to pass a UN General Assembly (UNGA) Declaration calling for solidarity against COVID-19, including rejecting all unilateral sanctions, on April 2.[22] The UNGA instead passed a rival declaration that does not address sanctions.[23] Russia’s delegation to the UN issued a statement calling on “the apologists of sanctions policy” to explain their votes and pledged to continue coordination with “like-minded states.”[24] The Kremlin will likely continue to use the UNGA as a platform to attempt to shape the global COVID-19 response to its own ends and attempt to portray the West, and specifically the US, as inhumane. The US retains the ability to veto any Russian or Chinese attempt to lift sanctions through the UN Security Council. However, the Kremlin may attempt to create a situation where the U.S. is forced to veto a resolution calling for sanctions removal. The Kremlin has already claimed that sanctions are inhumane, with Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova going as far as to say that sanctions against Venezuela during the COVID-19 outbreak “are turning almost into a tool of genocide.”[25] The Kremlin and its allies are additionally ignoring US efforts to open avenues for sanctions mitigation to combat COVID-19. The US and Switzerland launched a humanitarian trade channel for Iran on February 27.[26] American sanctions on Russia only target the Kremlin’s financial, energy, and defense sectors, not health or basic goods.[27] The Kremlin has the opportunity to either achieve reduced sanctions or score a victory in the information space.

The West must not fall for the Kremlin’s false equivalency on sanctions relief. The Kremlin is exploiting Guterres’s reasonable proposal of temporarily waiving sanctions on select industries to push for the removal of all sanctions on Russia and its allies without reversing their original malign behavior. The Kremlin chose not to engage with the UN’s proposal for COVID-19 sanctions relief. The Kremlin is instead attempting to exploit a global crisis to advance its own narratives on sanctions writ large. The Kremlin and other actors are additionally exacerbating the crises through misinformation campaigns that impede efforts to combat the virus.[28] The West should strive to ensure a successful global response to COVID-19, but must not fall for efforts by malign actors like the Kremlin to exploit the crisis to lift sanctions applied for previous malign behavior.




[1] [“Kosachev Believes that Amid Coronavirus and Currency Fluctuations, Sanctions should be Lifted,”] TASS, March 18, 2020, https://tass((.))ru/ekonomika/8012561; [“Kosachev Urged to Lift All Sanctions in the World Because of COVID-19,”] Gazeta, March 18, 2020, https://www.gazeta((.))ru/politics/news/2020/03/18/n_14174197.shtml.

[2] [“Slutsky Called the Position of Ukraine on Anti-Russian Sanctions Selfish,”] Ria News, March 19, 2020, https://ria((.))ru/20200319/1568844960.html; https://ria((.))ru/20200324/1569081128.html.

[3] [“About the Telephone Conversation of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergei Lavrov with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iran M.D. Zarif,”] Russian MFA, March 24, 2020, https://www.mid((.))ru/ru/maps/ir/-/asset_publisher/HUPBmpXjn4Ob/content/id/4092057.

[4] [“The State Duma Called for Lifting Sanctions Against Syria Because of the Coronavirus,”] Ria Novosti, March 19, 2020, https://ria((.))ru/20200319/1568864253.html.

[5] [“China Called for Lifting Sanctions on Iran in Pandemic,”] Ria Novosti, March 16, 2020, https://ria((.))ru/20200316/1568656298.html.

[6] [“About the Meeting of the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia I.V. Morgulov with the Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China in Russia Zhang Hanhui,”] Russian MFA, March 2, 2020, https://www.mid((.))ru/ru/maps/cn/-/asset_publisher/WhKWb5DVBqKA/content/id/4067203; [“About the Telephone Conversation of the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation I.V. Morgulov with the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the PRC Luo Zhaohui,”] Russian MFA, March 12, 2020, https://www.mid((.))ru/ru/maps/cn/-/asset_publisher/WhKWb5DVBqKA/content/id/4084864; [“On a Telephone Conversation Between Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergei Lavrov and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China Wang Yi,”] Russian MFA, March 18, 2020, https://www.mid((.))ru/ru/maps/cn/-/asset_publisher/WhKWb5DVBqKA/content/id/4089923; [“Russian MFA Information and Press Department Commentary Regarding a Collective Appeal to the UN Secretary General Calling for Demanding the Removal of Unilateral Sanctions in the Spread of the Coronavirus,”] Russian MFA, March 27, 2020, https://www.mid((.))ru/ru/maps/cn/-/asset_publisher/WhKWb5DVBqKA/content/id/4093009; [“On a Telephone Conversation Between Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergei Lavrov and a Member of the State Council, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China Wang Yi,”] Russian FMA, March 28, 2020, https://www.mid((.))ru/ru/maps/cn/-/asset_publisher/WhKWb5DVBqKA/content/id/4093137.

[7] Colum Lynch, “U.N. Calls for Rolling Back Sanctions to Battle Pandemic,” Foreign Policy, March 24, 2020, https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/03/24/un-coronavirus-cuba-iran-venezuela-....

[8] “Ease Sanctions Against Countries Fighting COVID-19: UN Human Rights Chief,” UN News, March 24, 2020, https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/03/1060092.

[9] “Putin Calls for Sanctions ‘Moratorium’ at G20 Summit,” Moscow Times, March 26, 2020, https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2020/03/26/putin-calls-for-sanctions-mora....

[10] Russian Mission UN, Twitter, March 25, 2020, https://twitter.com/RussiaUN/status/1243011675554529280

[11] [“Italy Called for Lifting Sanctions Against Russia amid COVID-19 Pandemic,”] Izvestia, March 21, 2020, https://iz((.))ru/989678/2020-03-21/v-italii-prizvali-sniat-sanktcii-s-rossii-na-fone-pandemii-covid-19; [“Germany Urged to End Sanctions Against Russia to Support the Economy,” Lenta, March 19, 2020, https://lenta((.))ru/news/2020/03/19/germ/.

[12] AFD MP Waldemar Herdt, who called for the EU to remove sanctions on Russia on March 18, traveled to attend an economic forum in Crimea in violation of Germany’s official position in April 2019. The other two MPs are Robby Schlund and Anton Frizen. [“Germany Urged to End Sanctions Against Russia to Support the Economy,” Lenta, March 19, 2020, https://lenta((.))ru/news/2020/03/19/germ/; [“Germany Called for Lifting Sanctions Against Russia Amid the Fight Against Coronavirus,”] Lenta, March 18, 2020, https://lenta((.))ru/news/2020/03/18/sankt/; “Waldemar Herdt & Markus Frohnmaier: ‘Russia’s Men in the Bundestag,’ Call for Lifting of EU Sanctions,” EU Today, March 23, 2020, https://eutoday.net/news/politics/2020/afd-russian-influence; Austin Davis, “AfD Lawmaker to Travel to Crimea Despite International Protest,” DW, April 17, 2019, https://www.dw.com/en/afd-lawmaker-to-travel-to-crimea-despite-internati....

[13] [“Russia Conducted a PR Operation in Italy Thanks to Far-Right MP from Germany – Bild,”] Ukrainskaya Pravda, March 28, 2020, https://www.pravda.com((.))ua/rus/news/2020/03/28/7245508/.

[14] [“Italy Called for Lifting Sanctions Against Russia amid COVID-19 Pandemic,”] Izvestia, March 21, 2020, https://iz((.))ru/989678/2020-03-21/v-italii-prizvali-sniat-sanktcii-s-rossii-na-fone-pandemii-covid-19; [“Who We Are,”] Criminal Chambers of European and International Law, Accessed April 3, 2020, https://www.camerepenali.org/

[15] Jennifer Cafarella with Jason Zhou, “Russia’s Dead-End Diplomacy in Syria,” Institute for the Study of War, November 2019, http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/ISW%20Report%20-%20R... Fredrick W. Kagan, Nataliya Bugayova, and Jennifer Cafarella, “Confronting the Russian Challenge,” Institute for the Study of War, June 2019, http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/ISW%20CTP%20Report%2... Nataliya Bugayova, Mason Clark, and George Barros, “Putin Accelerates Ukraine Campaign Amid Converging Crises,” Institute for the Study of War, March 24, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/putin-accelerates-ukraine-c....

[16] Yuri Sheiko, [“Russia and China Help Italy in the Fight Against Coronavirus: Nobility or PR?”] DW, March 24, 2020, https://www.dw.com/ru/рф-и-кнр-помогают-италии-в-борьбе-с-коронавирусом-благородство-или-пиар/a-52904286.

[17] Isabel Togoh, “From Russia with Love? Putin’s Medical Supplies Gift to Coronavirus-Hit Italy Raises Questions,” March 26, 2020, https://www.forbes.com/sites/isabeltogoh/2020/03/26/from-russia-with-lov....

[18] “Vladimir Putin’s Annual news Conference,” Kremlin, December 19, 2019, http://en.kremlin((.))ru/events/president/transcripts/press_conferences/62366.

[19] Jennifer Cafarella with Jason Zhou, “Russia’s Dead-End Diplomacy in Syria,” Institute for the Study of War, November 2019, http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/ISW%20Report%20-%20R... Fredrick W. Kagan, Nataliya Bugayova, and Jennifer Cafarella, “Confronting the Russian Challenge,” Institute for the Study of War, June 2019, http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/ISW%20CTP%20Report%2....

[20] [“Trump Believes that Moscow Will Seek From Him the Lifting of Sanctions,”] TASS, March 30, 2020, https://tass((.))ru/mezhdunarodnaya-panorama/8117241; Brett Samuels, “Trump Says he’ll Speak with Putin on Monday,” The Hill, March 30, 2020, https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/490126-trump-says-hell-speak....

[21] Jack Detsch, “Democrats Push back on Sanctions, Citing Coronavirus Fears,” Foreign Policy, March 27, 2020, https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/03/27/democrats-coronavirus-sanctions-wai....

[22] [“Media Commentary on the Consideration by the UN General Assembly of the Declaration of Solidarity in the Fight Against the Coronavirus Pandemic,”] Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, April 2, 2020, https://russiaun((.))ru/ru/news/pressrelease_020420.

[23] “UN Adopts Resolution Urging Global Cooperation on COVID-19,” New York Times, April 2, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2020/04/02/world/europe/ap-un-virus-out....

[24] [“Media Commentary on the Consideration by the UN General Assembly of the Declaration of Solidarity in the Fight Against the Coronavirus Pandemic,”] Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, April 2, 2020, https://russiaun((.))ru/ru/news/pressrelease_020420.

[25] [“Slutsky Called the Position of Ukraine on Anti-Russian Sanctions Selfish,”] Ria Novosti, March 19, 2020, https://ria((.))ru/20200319/1568844960.html; [“Mironov Called Sanctions Amid the Coronavirus Epidemic Inappropriate,”] Ria Novosti, March 24, 2020, https://ria((.))ru/20200324/1569081128.html; [“Briefing by Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesman M.V. Zakharova, Moscow, March 27, 2020,”] Russian MFA, March 27, 2020, https://www.mid((.))ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4093042#4.

[26] Ian Talley, Benoit Faucon, “U.S., Swiss Formally Open Humanitarian Trade Channel to Iran,” Wall Street Journal, February 27, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-swiss-formally-open-humanitarian-trade-....

[27] Dianne E. Rennack, Cory Welt, “U.S. Sanctions on Russia: An Overview,” Congressional Research Service, March 23, 2020, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/IF10779.pdf.

[28] George Barros, “Viral Disinformation: The Kremlin’s Coronavirus Information Operation in Ukraine,” Institute for the Study of War, March 11, 2020, http://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/viral-disinformation-kremli....


Source:Ocnus.net 2020

Top of Page

Dark Side
Latest Headlines
Not So Green On The Other Side: How A Russian Tycoon's $165 Million U.S. Cannabis Bet Went Up In Smoke
The Fable of the Chinese Whistleblower
The road beyond Wigan Pier
Did Iran Convert a Dumb Rocket Into a Guided Aeroballistic Missile?
Florida scientist said she was fired for 'refusing to manipulate' COVID-19 data
Amnesty Demands Justice After Iranian 'Killing Spree' Against November Protesters
The Invisible Threat to China’s Navy: Corruption
China's Cyber War Against America
Maduro’s Frontman Coordinates Gold Payments from Venezuela to Iran
Germany Takes Back its Sovereignty from the European Union