After US sanctions crippled an entire Russian industry and air strikes in Syria threatened the first direct clash between nuclear superpowers since the Cold War, Vladimir Putin is seeking to dial down the tension.
Russia’s leader wants to give President Donald Trump another chance to make good on pledges to improve ties and avoid escalation, according to four people familiar with the matter. One said the Kremlin has ordered officials to curb their anti-US rhetoric. Putin’s decision explains why lawmakers suddenly pulled a draft law that would’ve imposed sweeping counter-sanctions on US companies, two of the people said. The relatively limited nature of the weekend attacks on alleged chemical-weapons facilities in Syria, where Russia is backing government forces in a civil war, was seen as a positive sign in the Kremlin, considering Trump’s ominous tweets announcing missiles would soon be flying.
“Putin is ready to make numerous, deep concessions, but he has to appear like he’s not losing,” said Igor Bunin of the Center for Political Technologies, a consultancy whose clients include Kremlin staff.
“He understands Russia can’t compete with the West economically and he doesn’t plan to go to war with the West.”
A Foreign Ministry official in Moscow said that the Trump administration notified Russia’s embassy in Washington that new sanctions would be coming in the near future.
The Kremlin is still coming to grips with the economic impact of the most punitive penalties the US has imposed since first sanctioning Russia four years ago, over the conflict in Ukraine.
The latest measures, which Treasury called payback for Putin’s “malign activity” in general, hit one of the country’s most powerful businessmen, billionaire Oleg Deripaska, the hardest.
Shares of Deripaska’s aluminum giant Rusal have plunged about 70 percent in Hong Kong since the US basically banned the company from the dollar economy on April 6, erasing about $6 billion of value and threatening 100,000 jobs at a time when Russia is limping out of its longest recession in two decades. Putin, who is due to be sworn in
for what may be a final six-year term next month, is keen to avoid having another major company suffer a similar fate.
It could be too late to reverse the downward spiral that’s taken relations to the lowest level in decades. While Trump is open to trying to improve ties, Congress and much of his administration are committed to keeping the pressure up on a country many view as America’s No. 1 enemy after allegations of Kremlin meddling in the 2016 elections.
US told Russian embassy no new sanctions due soon: Russia
The Trump administration notified Russia’s US embassy in Washington that it has no plans to impose any further sanctions soon, according to a Foreign Ministry official.
Conflicting signals from Washington over its plans have sent markets gyrating in recent days. When official Russian news agencies reported the US notification, the ruble flipped from being the worst performing emerging-market currency to the best in the first hour of trading in Moscow.
The latest back-and-forth began, when US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said the Treasury would announce new sanctions soon targeting Russian companies linked to Syria’s chemical weapons programme.