For a presidency marked by reticence to criticize Russia, Thursday offered a change of tone. The White House signed on to a four-nation statement condemning Russia for poisoning people on British soil with a military-grade nerve agent. Meanwhile, the Treasury Department unveiled sanctions against five Russian organizations and 19 Russian nationals in response to Kremlin-backed meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Both moves are welcome, but unless they hint at much bigger things to come, and soon, they also are inadequate. These steps alone won’t deter Russian President Vladimir Putin from interfering in America’s 2018 elections, nor from engaging in the variety of aggressive attacks on the West that Russia continues to perpetrate.
As Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said Thursday: “Nearly all of the entities and individuals … sanctioned today were either previously under sanction during the Obama administration, or had already been charged with federal crimes by the Special Counsel.” In other words, the sanctions do not represent a dramatic change in U.S. policy. “With the midterm elections fast approaching,” Warner added, “the Administration needs to step it up, now. …”
The administration could start by slapping more sanctions on Russian oligarchs and others in Putin’s inner circle. The Russian threat also demands that the administration push much harder to obtain funding, intelligence and other support for states seeking to secure their election systems. And the president should express full support for the special counsel investigation into Russian actions. Encouragingly, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday he intends to impose additional sanctions.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE WASHINGTON POST