Analysis: U.S. sanctions on Russia will send a signal, if not deter

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. sanctions may not deter Russia from its alleged election meddling and cyber hacking in the short term but will signal Washington’s renewed willingness to hold the Kremlin publicly to account for acts it views as malign.

President Joe Biden has vowed Russian President Vladimir Putin will “pay a price” and is expected to impose sanctions as soon as this week that could range from freezing the U.S. assets of Russians to curbing Moscow’s ability to issue sovereign debt.

Russia denies meddling in U.S. elections and orchestrating the cyber hack that used U.S. tech company SolarWinds Corp to penetrate U.S. government networks.

The Kremlin has also dismissed reports it offered bounties to Taliban militants to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

While the two nations’ presidents quickly extended the New START arms control treaty, Biden has taken a much tougher stance toward Putin than his predecessor, Donald Trump, and the U.S. and Russian leaders have made no secret of their disagreements.

In an interview last week the new Democratic president agreed with an interviewer who asked if he thought the Russian leader was a “killer,” prompting Putin to respond with a Russian playground chant that “he who said it, did it.”

Analysts said sanctions were unlikely to deter Russia and it was necessary to harden U.S. society to resist disinformation campaigns like the one Putin likely directed to try to sway the 2020 U.S. election in favor of Trump, a Republican, according to a U.S. intelligence assessment released on Tuesday.

The assessment showed Russia did little to hide its hand in trying to influence the election, suggesting such efforts may now simply be a fact of life, said Andrew Weiss of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank.

“That’s a long-term problem for Western societies and we shouldn’t expect the administration is just magically going to solve it,” he said, adding Washington wanted “to send a message: we’re watching these activities, we’re going to call them out.”

A former U.S. official said that even though sanctions may not change Moscow’s behavior in the short term, there can be a benefit to drawing clear lines about what is not acceptable.

“What they are trying to do with their Russia policy is to discourage risk-taking by the Russians, to carve out small areas where there are abilities to cooperate and to be very clear in specific and timely reactions that there will always be a cost to Russian behavior,” said the former U.S. official.

“That wasn’t the case under the Trump administration,” the former official said on condition of anonymity.

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