Russia has become a major source of global instability that is threatening the world order and the U.S. As the Wagner Group’s Evgeny Prigozhin failed in his bizarre coup this past weekend, the Kremlin is simultaneously waging war against Ukraine. But in fact, the U.S. Russian President Vladimir Putin proclaims Ukraine to merely be a puppet of “the West”, denying its right to exist. Putin claims Russia is in an existential battle for survival against the U.S.-led NATO. The severity of Moscow’s delusions and the length of this conflict means it has no inhibitions about using every instrument of force and violence in its wars against Kyiv and Washington.
Thus, Moscow’s in May 2023 published list of 500 prominent Americans added to its persona non-grata list, bringing the total number of restricted Americans to 1844. The Kremlin published the prior sanction lists in May 2022, September 2022, and in February 2023.
This is much more than a spiteful retaliation against Western sanctions. It is a part of a massive intimidation campaign that ranges from the threats of a nuclear war to harassment of American diplomats by the Russian intelligence in Europe, to intimidation of the leading American policy makers and experts: the brains and the arms of the U.S. Russian policy. This list of the sanctioned leading members of the US political establishment exposes how closely the Russian intelligence service and Foreign Ministry monitor U.S. and Western policy leaders, strategists, and analytical centers that focus on Russia.
The sanctions list reflects the Kremlin’s view of who policy makers towards Russia are, and, most dangerously, is a standing provocation and threat directed against them. The list includes President Joe Biden, former President Barack Obama, Vice-President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
Clearly, the list came from the top, i.e., Putin and those closest to him, like Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of the Security Council.This Russian sanction list includes leading political figures and allegedly anti-Russia celebrities, e.g., Morgan Freeman, and politicians like Governor Sarah Huckabee (R-AR) and Wes Moore (D-MD) – both brand new. The list included deceased politicians like former Sen. John McCain, (R-Ariz.); Sen. Harry Reid, (D-Nev.), indicating it was likely prepared long in advance in line with Moscow’s views on the Ukrainian conflict.
There is a bipartisan hodgepodge of Senators and Representatives, chosen to inflame America’s domestic partisan divide. The list includes Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) (who was likely framed after a video dishonestly edited of him appearing to celebrate the death of Russians began circulating), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN).
Prominent media personalities like late night TV talk show host Stephen Colbert, Bret Stephens of the New York Times and George Stephanopoulos of ABC News also appear. The list also targets those who prosecute the January 6, 2022, insurrectionists – a full-throated Russian show of support of those who tried to overthrow the U.S. Government.
Scott Blanchard of General Dynamics Mission Systems and Vivek Lall, of General Atomics are among captains of the industry who the Kremlin targets.
The list also named leading members of U.S. think tanks who actively influence the domestic debate and policy formulation on Russia. The list includes a RAND corporation’s Barry Pavel and Michael Weitzenfeld, The Atlantic Council Chairman of the Board John F.W. Rogers, Executive Vice Chair Alexander Mirtchev, and the CEO Fred Kempe; the Brookings Institute’s renowned Russia experts Angela Stent and Fiona Hill, as well as Luke Coffey from the Hudson Institute, Andrew Weiss of Carnegie Endowment Freedom House, Miriam Lanskoy from the National Endowment for Democracy and many more. These are people who stand for the values of democracy, human rights, and rules based international order, the values that the Russian leadership despises and hates.
The eight significant treaties Moscow broke to invade Ukraine display its cynical attitude towards international law. Beyond this, Russia uses provocations, harassment, intimidations, and murder, even if its critics are abroad. Such actions display Moscow’s modus operandi abroad and require more from the West than merely financial and military support for Ukraine. The goal is simple: frighten and intimidate.
This wide-ranging list of targets in and out of government encompasses the decision-making and thought-leadership centers of U.S. policy. Simultaneously, the Russian government purged its own from the list of advisors of the National Security Council. Prominent experts on arms control who have decades of contact with Americans like Alexei Arbatov and Sergei Rogov were sacrificed by Putin to break off arms control talks.
These measures are not just signs of hostility to Washington and the West, but attempts at escalation, harassment, sabotage, and intimidation of leading Western figures and their Russian counterparts who wanted to continue contacts and dialogue, wholly consistent with the Russian State’s contemporary outlaw nature.
America cannot stay mum. Apart from more thorough measures against the assets of the Russian elite, we need to wage a much stronger global information war exposing the regime’s utter corruption, criminality, and abuses of the Russian people, especially with direct messaging in Russian to the Russian population, and in the Global South. The West needs to shut down the networks of so-called “ghost ships” furnishing Russia with weapons, energy sales opportunities, which allow it to continue prosecuting this war.
The Prigozhin coup may have failed, but the cracks in Putin’s edifice are now for all to see. The elites are disoriented and are losing faith in Putin. The next rebellion may succeed where the current one failed.
Russia’s war against the West is intrinsic to his regime’s survival and brings about its darkest impulses. We must learn from the French proverb “a la guerre comme a la guerre,” –“in war like in a war.” Maybe it is time for the US to take its gloves off and make the Russian regime feel the heat.