Correcting Benjamin Franklin

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes,” Benjamin Franklin once said. If he lived in our times, he would also add “and sanctions against Russia.” The events of the latest days show that, despite the steps Moscow takes or decides not to take, sanctions are applied regardless.

Not because Russia has done something horrible, but instead, just because that is the custom.

But, first things first.

On Sunday, Elizabeth Truss, the British secretary of state for foreign affairs, stated that the U.K. is planning to expand its sanctions against Russia. Any company serving “the Kremlin’s interests” could be affected by the new anti-corruption law, which will enter into force on Feb. 10. Truss did not rule out the possibility that the properties of Russian oligarchs in London could be confiscated.

This new legislation, as Truss said, will be the “toughest sanction regime against Russia we have ever had,” which will give the U.K. the power to “sanction a much broader range of individuals and businesses” — banks, energy corporations and individual businessmen. The U.K. government will be able to target anyone who “operates in the sector of strategical significance” for Vladimir Putin.

Similar statements have been heard from the other side of the Atlantic. The Guardian quoted a U.S. official who said that Washington and its allies prepared a list of representatives of the Russian elite from Putin’s inner circle, against whom economic sanctions will be introduced should the Kremlin order the invasion of Ukraine. Unlike Truss, the U.S. official shared this information on condition of anonymity, but the way it was presented was seemingly copied from their British colleague. “The individuals we have identified are in or near the inner circles of the Kremlin and play a role in government decision-making or are at a minimum complicit in the Kremlin’s destabilizing behavior” — an exact quote.

Such a similarity can only be explained by the “talking heads” using the same guidelines, even when diplomatic officials assume the role of these “heads.”

It’s unlikely we will ever know who devised these guidelines, but they certainly exist and following them is mandatory for the liberal Euro-Atlantic elites.

Indeed, there’s touching unity on the question of anti-Russian sanctions on Capitol Hill — between the two adversaries that are otherwise irreconcilable, the Democrats and the Republicans. To rephrase Prophet Isaiah, “The wolf will reside for a while with the lamb, and with the donkey the elephant will lie down.” According to Reuters, U.S. senators could agree on legislation introducing new sanctions against Russia this very week. It’s bipartisan legislation: it’s promoted both by Democrat Robert Menendez, who is chairing the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and Republican James Risch, who is serving as a senator from Idaho and a member of the same committee. According to Menendez, they are “on the one-yard line” moving forward with the bill. There is, as the senator stated in his interview with CNN, “strong bipartisan resolve to support Ukraine and to punish Russia if it invades Ukraine.”

The spiciest detail is that some of the sanctions prepared with this bill can come into force even if the invasion does not happen — because of what Russia “has already done, including cyber attacks on Ukraine, false flag operations and efforts to undermine the Ukrainian government internally.”

In other words, if this bill is passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, “some” of the sanctions will be unavoidable for Russia regardless, while if it “invades” Ukraine after all, true hell would crash down upon it.

However, Menendez added, lethal aid will be sent to Ukrainian forces no matter what.

What a curious situation. Neither party can agree on literally any important political matter, including the notorious infrastructure bill; they are at each other’s throats over critical race theory and the Capitol attack; they are gathering forces to clash in a decisive battle for Congress this November; and yet they both burn with desire to “punish” Russia for a hypothetical invasion of Ukraine. The only existing minor disagreements between the “elephants” and the “donkeys” about the sanctions bill are regarding the question if there should be additional sanctions against Nord Stream 2. In other matters, the Republicans and the Democrats demonstrate extraordinary unanimity: The largest Russian banks, Russian sovereign debt and Putin’s “inner circle” should all be sanctioned.

However, we have to be objective. Not all Republicans gave in to the anti-Russian hysteria and the cancerous Ukrainophilia. Persistent Trumpists are an exception, such as Reps. Paul Gosar (Arizona) and Anthony Sabatini (Florida). Gosar released a special statement, in which he said, “We have no dog in the Ukraine fight. Not one American soldier should die there, and not one American bullet should be fired there.” Gosar warns, “We just lost Afghanistan to sandal-wearing goat herders. I assure you Russian military is no joke either. The same clowns urging U.S. intervention have the same stupid ROE that caused losses in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Sabatini, in turn, launched a petition urging Joe Biden not to drag Americans into the Ukraine situation, since the “America first” policy means that the U.S. should not intervene with the matters of a corrupt Eastern European country. Instead, Sabatini wishes to focus on what is really important for Americans — the crisis at the Mexican border.

But those, unfortunately, are lone voices of reason among the anti-Russian craze engulfing the two parties. It’s not surprising those voices belong to Trump supporters: Today they’re the only force in the U.S. political sphere that doesn’t believe that battling Russia on all frontiers is Washington’s top priority. Donald Trump, during his term, put a lot of effort into holding back overly eager apologists of “punishing” Russia. The manner in which it was done was quite cunning: Congress voted for a variety of “crushing sanctions,” while the Trump administration nullified their practical effectiveness. Trump, all the while, boasted that America knew no other president who would be so tough on Russia. In the end, almost 40(!) packages of sanctions, adopted in the U.S. during Trump’s term, have gone almost unnoticed in Russia. Now, however, while the Oval Office is occupied by Biden, balancing on the verge of dementia, the hawks from both parties are committed to make up for lost time.

New sanctions, if we are to believe the officials “anonymously” sharing their information with their lapdog media, could impact not only oligarchs, but also the members of the board of directors of Russian state corporations, top officials from the Russian government and, importantly, wives and children of politicians and businessmen. Particular names were not disclosed, but the journalists speculate that those will be taken from the secret list of the “Russian elite” — from an appendix to Section 241 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, submitted to Congress back in 2018. According to the British newspaper The Guardian, “That list contains 114 “senior political figures” — though not Putin himself — and an additional 96 “oligarchs.” Such a document is not one of a kind; there’s also a “shortlist” of 35 names, a part of the Putin Accountability Act introduced to Congress for review by Republican Rep. Jim Banks. (The Biden administration gave the cold shoulder to this initiative, claiming that there are certain “technical difficulties” preventing the introduction of sanctions against the president of Russia.)

In any case, the goal of the U.S. and the U.K. is clear and simple: to apply pressure to the part of the Russian political elite that is connected, ideologically and economically, and sometimes even by family ties, to the West.

They want to intimidate this part of the Russian elite with the confiscation of everything they’ve earned and stashed into their bank accounts in the City of London, as well as their apartments in Manhattan and their villas in Miami. The other side, in turn, which is patriotically motivated and aiming for the development of Russia’s economic and scientific potential, would be affected from a different angle — through the punishing actions toward state corporations and companies strategically important to Russia as well as industry sectors. All this, combined, should convince Putin’s “inner circle” of the lack of prospects of a potential invasion of Ukraine and compel them to be more agreeable to the West on the Eastern European direction.

This scheme would look almost not entirely pointless if not for a single, but a very important detail.

Sanctions — at least some of them — will be introduced regardless, no matter whether the invasion of Ukraine does or doesn’t happen. And since there are no solid grounds to assume this invasion is really in the works (it could only occur if provoked — with the direct aggression of Ukraine’s Armed Forces against Russia or the Donetsk People’s Republic or the Luhansk People’s Republic), it’s obvious that the real goal of the Anglo-Saxon Bloc is not to protect Kyiv but to punish Moscow. A punishment for a deadly sin — for demonstrating its power on the international arena. By moving its armed forces closer and then further away from the Ukrainian border, by exercising a lightning-fast operation to restore constitutional order in Kazakhstan, by continuing to protect the legitimately elected government in Syria, Russia forced the West to admit that Russia has certain geopolitical interests that it will pursue.

So what, one could ask? Russia’s geopolitical interests seem to be obvious. However, for the world in which the U.S. has been living for the last 30 years, this is almost a revolution, as is the list of Russian demands for NATO. It’s clear that NATO will never agree to them in the way they were presented, but for the today’s world hegemon, the very fact that Russia voices such demands is equivalent to a hard punch in the stomach.

Of course, a response for such insolence was unavoidable. And in this sense it’s obvious that the British were the first to start talking about the sanctions against Putin’s “inner circle,” while the Americans seemingly decided to play second fiddle. After all, as they say in Britain, “Gentlemen never lose, and if they do, they change the rules of the game.”

However, when raising the stakes in this game, let alone changing its rules, one should be prepared for the possibility that their adversary could be tougher.

Especially when your adversaries are the Russians.

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About Artem Belov 81 Articles
Artem Belov is a TESOL-certified English teacher and a freelance translator (Russian>English and English>Russian) based in Australia but currently traveling abroad. He is working on a number of projects, including game localization. You can reach him at

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