By: Lauren Loverin, Americas Section
Analytical Question: Will the US lift its economic sanctions on Russia in 2018
United States President Donald Trump has extended an invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet in Washington in the near future, despite the mutual expulsion of diplomats between the two countries. The possibility of a summit may point to alleviating tensions caused by the poisoning of Russian former spy Sergei Skripal in Britain, which prompted the expulsion of Russian diplomats from the US. While the outcome of a potential summit remains uncertain, we believe with high confidence that the US economic sanctions on Russia will stay in place throughout 2018.
Since 2014, the United States has imposed economic sanctions on Russia in response to its involvement in the Ukraine, Syria, and the 2016 United States presidential elections. President Trump and President Putin are spotlight actors, and the relationship between the two directly affects diplomatic relations between the United States and Russia. Since in office, President Trump has advocated in favor of repairing relations with Russia. However, recent developments relating to the Skripal case have further regressed US-Russian diplomatic tensions, resulting in the mutual expulsion of diplomats. Despite these expulsions, it has been confirmed that President Trump has not rescinded an earlier proposal to meet with President Putin, with the White House being a candidate for the meeting location.
On March 26, 2018, the United States responded to the Skripal attack by expelling 60 Russian diplomats, in concordance with the United Kingdom. More than 150 Russian diplomats have been expelled by the UK, US, and Western countries or organizations in response to the attack. In retaliation, Russia ordered the expulsion of 60 United States diplomats, who were told to leave the country by April 5. Predictably, this has led to further-aggravated relations between the US and Russia. However, the US Department of State granted Russia the ability to request new diplomatic accreditations. White House spokeswomen Sarah Sanders, and Putin aide Yuri Ushakov, confirmed on Monday, April 2, 2018, that President Trump had invited President Putin to visit Washington in the near future. The invitation was first proposed during a congratulatory phone call by President Trump to President Putin, on the occasion on the Russian leader’s re-election last month. The Kremlin has since released further statements, suggesting that the possibility of a meeting between the two men remains open, despite the recent diplomatic expulsions. While a potential summit may cause a domestic backlash against President Trump, President Putin’s aide, Ushakov, said the summit may be constructive in diplomatic relations between the US and Russia. However concrete details regarding a possible summit have yet to be made public.
Although the expulsion of diplomats hinders improvements in relations between the United States and Russia, President Trump’s extended invitation signals a potential easing in tensions between the two countries. While the invitation was proposed prior to the Skripal attack, official statements confirming the invitation were issued after the US expulsion of Russian diplomats, and highlight President Trump’s stance on Russian foreign policy. With the UK being a strong ally of the US, a response condemning Russia for the Skripal attack was in order for the United States. However, the official confirmation of the invitation from the White House may indicate President Trump’s inclination to avoid further tensions. Although the possibility and outcome of a summit are premature, the possible topics of discussion during a possible summit warrant attention. A discussion of developments since the last summit, including newly implemented sanctions, show potential to directly affect the current status of US economic sanctions on the Russian economy.
It is important to note, however, that although a proposal for a summit has been announced, it does not mean that President Trump will lift these economic sanctions on Russia. Despite President Trump’s summit proposal, tensions still remain between the US and Russia. These tensions have intensified by the course of action taken by both the US and Russia in response to the Skripal attack. The proposal of a summit provides the opportunity for President Trump and President Putin to address the newly imposed sanctions targeting the Russian economy. It does not, however, discount the United States’ disciplinary action of last week, thus rendering more remote the possibility of lifted sanctions. It is with high confidence, therefore, that we believe that the US will not lift economic sanctions on Russia in 2018.
Cristiano Lima, “Trump, Putin discussed possible meeting at White House, administration says”, Politico, 2 April 2018
Julian Borger, “Trump invited Putin to White House during congratulatory call last month”, The Guardian, 2 April 2018.
Krishnadev Calamur, “The US and Russia Are Caught in a Downward Spiral”, The Atlantic, 29 March 2018.
Reuters Staff, “Kremlin says Trump suggested Putin visit the White House”, Reuters, 2 April 2018.