Date: 26 Nov 2014, Politics and Current Affairs
Question setter: Adrian Stones

Ukraine & Sanctions on Russia

Will the USA declare any significant lifting of the sanctions against Russia by the end of January 2015?


Answer: No
Confidence level: 100%
Mean confidence level (all requests): 77.57%

Sanctions have been imposed because the West fears Russia's intentions, not just towards the Ukraine but to other countries too. Protests against the annexation of the Crimea have been ignored. Putin is mocking the West in Eastern Ukraine, bolstering the rebels, while claiming no involvement by Russian troops. He is extending his hold over parts of Georgia and stating boldly that he is prepared to act similarly wherever people need Russia's protection. He is gambling that no Western country has appetite for military action and that Russia's physical incursions will remain unopposed by the NATO allies. He may even feint towards a NATO member, so that the rest are keen to appease and withdraw sanctions on a pull-back from an unreal threat.
However, the USA will be determined to apply sanctions for some time to come. Frustrated by their impotence to curb Russia in the Ukraine and having seen Georgia dismembered and Crimea annexed, a Republican congress will insist that Obama holds firm. They may even prevail in a limited way as Russia's economy dives but by then Putin will have created his victory story. It will be many months before the USA lifts any sanctions and more may be imposed first.

Outcome: No
Score: 100
Mean score (all respondents): 38.71

Expert opinion:

Answer: No

Selected Expert Answer from Adrian Stones:
There is in reality considerable pressure on the American Administration to take a tougher line over Ukraine than it has already done. The current alignment in Washington does not favour dovish policy making and it is inconceivable that President Obama would move to ease sanctions without a significant climb down on the part of the Russian authorities. There is no sign whatsoever that Moscow is about to change tack and no sign that Putin would want Obama to be able to claim that sanctions had delivered any adjustments to Russian policy making.

Once sanctions are viewed solely through the prism of Washington politics, the prospect of their being lifted diminishes even further. The Senate and the House of Representatives are in Republican hands. The incoming Republican Chair of the Senate Armed Service Committee is John McCain. He is likely to sponsor legislation supportive of Kiev which may include declaring Ukraine to be an MMNA (Major Non-NATO Ally), a status already accorded to Japan and South Korea. There will also be pressure to make American military equipment available to Kiev. In opposing these measures Obama is going to want to say that sanctions are already having the impact he intended.

Answer: No

Selected Expert Answer from Mettletest Panellist:
Many Western countries, and especially Germany, would be delighted to see Russia offer them an excuse to ease sanctions. They have companies suffering from interruption of business and fear the disruption of gas supplies. The “capitalists” of the USA will make them share the pain. As Republicans gain sway on Capitol Hill, there will be no let up in the hard line. They want to force Russia to leave the Ukraine. Meanwhile, Putin raises the stakes and creates an impression of massive threat. His (unadmitted) troop incursions in to the sliver of Ukraine held by Russian supporting rebels is accompanied by insidious rhetoric about creating land bridges to the Crimea and inventions of “historic” territories as "New Russia". He talks of protecting Russian speakers in all the ex-Soviet bloc states and reinforced that by making a treaty with Abkhazia, the break-away province of Georgia. The message – there’s nothing you can do about it. There are chinks of light. The sanctions, compounded by lower oil prices, hurt. Russia wants its warships too. Because Putin has used misinformation masterfully and denied the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine, he could withdraw without losing face at home. He will need assurance that NATO will not seduce Kiev to its ranks. But no lifting by Jan.

Answer: No

Selected Expert Answer from John Karslake:
It is more likely that sanctions will be extended, given the belligerent rhetoric and continued fighting in Eastern Ukraine. The USA will feel it needs to keep the pressure on Putin. Sanctions are unlikely to work though, without some diplomatic concessions that allow Russia to withdraw without losing face. Russia denies having troops in Ukraine, so pulling out can be done without fuss. The USA and Nato needs to agree to leaving Ukraine in Russia's sphere, out of Nato and as a strong trading partner. The West must also provide Ukraine with the finances to mitigate the blow. In return, Russia should desist from any new territorial ambitions in Ukraine and guarantee to respect the Baltic states. There' is little sign that we are any where near fulfilling any of these conditions yet or that the dialogue is open. A resolution may be achieved over the course of the next year, with business pressure on Putin to re-establish profitable links with the West. Putin is not easily swayed by such considerations but a weaker oil price could force his hand. That is a longer timescale. I cannot see the USA lifting any sanctions by the end of January.

Outcome: No

Comment on outcome from Mettletest Panellist:
As Adrian Stones predicted, the American Administration is taking a tougher line over Ukraine and now debating whether to arm the government forces in response to perceived Russian escalation. With fierce battles, rising civilian casualties and the Ukrainian government forces buckling, France and Germany are now on a desperate mission to avoid all-out war. The prospect of sanctions being lifted seem as far away as ever. Sanctions are hurting the Russian economy and oil price falls even more so but they appear to be having no effect on changing Putin's stance on the Ukraine, their main goal. Nor, with his well managed control of the media, does he seem to be losing public support. Reuters states "Russian opinion polls show 70 percent think the government should continue its policies regardless of sanctions even though at least that many say they've been hurt by them."