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New Russia Sanctions Bill Compromises National Security

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Russia plans to meddle in the 2020 election, according to a recent statement jointly issued by the FBI, Department of Justice, and National Security Agency.

Such interference threatens our democracy. It's unacceptable. And to prevent it, a handful of senators recently proposed new sanctions on Russia. In theory, these penalties will deter the Kremlin from sowing chaos and disinformation over the next nine months.

But in practice, the sanctions won't faze Vladimir Putin or his thugs. The penalties are so broadly targeted, they'd hit many American companies operating in Europe and other overseas markets. They'd also strain America's alliances with our European allies.

It's encouraging that senators are trying to defend the integrity of America's elections. But this sanctions package won't achieve that goal.

The bill, the Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKA), would drive a wedge between the United States and its European allies. Ever since 2014, when Russia invaded Ukraine, America has coordinated sanctions with the European Union. Unilaterally imposing sanctions that the EU doesn't want could alienate key allies and give Russia the chance to divide us.

These sanctions could cripple European economies. Consider what happened in 2018, when the United States sanctioned 38 Russian entities, including the aluminum producer RUSAL. These sanctions brought Europe's aluminum industry to the brink of collapse. DASKA could wreak similar havoc on European markets, further straining our European alliances.

DASKA would also harm America's economy. The bill would ban American oil and gas companies from any partnerships with Russian entities. As a result, U.S. firms would have to withdraw from energy ventures anywhere in the world if a Russian company held even a minority stake. DASKA would kill at least 100 ongoing oil and gas projects.

Ironically, this provision could empower, rather than weaken, the Kremlin. The bill would effectively give Vladimir Putin the ability to thwart American energy companies' international expansion plans.

Putin could simply order a Russian company -- owned by one of his corrupt oligarch friends -- to take a minority stake in American-led projects. Once a Russian firm came on board, the American company would have to withdraw from the project and abandon its assets or sell them at a steep discount. The Russian company could snap up those assets at fire-sale prices.

By supporting Russian energy dominance, DASKA will also increase Moscow's geopolitical influence. Europe already imports around 37 percent of its natural gas from Russia. That dependence will only grow if Russia corners a larger share of the energy market. If that happens, our European allies will be less likely to join us in checking Russian aggression around the world.

The United States can't afford to let Russia interfere in the 2020 election. But it can't afford to cripple its own economy or alienate European allies either. DASKA would play directly into the Kremlin's hands. More targeted sanctions would deliver a real blow to Russian interests without compromising American national security.

Drew Johnson is a government watchdog columnist and energy policy expert who serves as a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research. He spent months in Russia researching human rights issues and U.S.-Russian relations.


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