Mikhail Khodorkovsky: New US Sanctions Will Set Russia Back Decades

August 10, 2017

Mikhail Khodorkovsky gives his take on the latest US sanctions bill and its potential consequences for Russia.

The latest American sanctions bill has received mixed reactions from politicians, journalists and commentators around the world.  The Kremlin has responded to the sanctions with a broad retaliation, expelling over 700 American diplomatic staff, while they have had a mixed reception among both Trump’s supporters and his adversaries in the United States.

Open Russia founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky has criticised the new bill for its shortsightedness, claiming that the indiscriminate nature of the sanctions will set Russia back decades in comparison with its other competitors on the world stage.

“Under these new sanctions on technology,” Khodorkovsky claims, “a country of 140 million people is now doomed to lag behind the rest of the world.”  Sweeping sanctions which do not distinguish between the Russian people and the Kremlin elite inevitably harm regular people, while government officials enjoy the security of their assets abroad, or simply continue to raid the state budget.

The original Magnitsky act of 2012 sought to punish individual businessmen and officials for their human rights abuses at home by restricting their ability to travel to western countries and attacking their overseas assets.  The Magnitsky bill was hailed by murdered opposition politician Boris Nemtsov as “the most pro-Russian law ever enacted by the US senate.”  However, today we are witnessing a return to a more belligerent form of diplomacy that risks fundamentally undermining the Russian economy, setting it up for a bleak future even after Vladimir Putin has vacated the presidency.

Khodorkovsky notes that “In the modern world such decisions like the new American sanctions bill, although they are beneficial to the side that instigates them, are impossible to implement without a clear consensus from the international community.” He continues, claiming that such actions without the consent of the international community “render irrelevant any potential benefits.”

America’s refocusing on shale gas, and its opposition to Nord Stream 2, the new pipeline due to transport gas from Russia or Germany, has a business element to it; they are attempting to create a new market for their products in Europe.  This will affect Russia’s attempts to enjoy the benefits of resources in the Arctic Shelf for “at least the next few decades”, claims Khodorkovsky, who believes that Russia “will not be able to establish other drilling platforms right away.”

More often than not, sanctions that harm the Russian economy directly assist the Kremlin elite in consolidating national and patriotic sentiment for their own interests.  A sensible policy on Russia should look beyond the Putin regime and see what would really benefit Russia in the future as a potential ally.  The current bill, Khodorkovsky maintains, “could potentially have scores of other consequences which are yet to materialise.”

Moving to the topic of post-Putin Russia, Khodorkovsky claims that “the stolen goods will be easier to return once Putin finally takes his leave.”  However, he emphasises that “whether these goods will be returned to society, or again return to those in power, depends on society itself”, echoing his stance that the entire political system in Russia must undergo serious structural changes, not just a change of leader.

A Russian civil society weakened by foreign sanctions and economic depravity would be more likely to turn to another ‘leader figure’ in a post-Putin scenario.  However, Khodorkovsky claims that there is an alternative: “political representation in a parliamentary republic where the government is answerable to the people.”

Urging Russians to “get off the couch”, Khodorkovsky reminds us that “you can keep waiting for a new leader to come along and “make everything right”, but don’t hold out.  Every leader has his own clan to whom all the cookies inevitably go.”

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