Sen. Mark Kirk: Squeeze Russia as we did Iran

Written By BY Sen. Mark Kirk Posted: 05/13/2014, 04:54pm

As we watch President Obama struggle with Russia’s takeover of Ukraine, we look for what an effective non-military policy would be to stop the Russians. Ironically, the most effective sanctions policy would be similar to our policy of 2013 against Iran.

The current sanctions against Russia thus far target only a handful of individuals and companies. We continue to see Russia violate international norms through its military buildup in Crimea, and its actions in Eastern Ukraine. The limited sanctions implemented by Obama have had no impact on Vladimir Putin.

To combat Russian aggression, the Obama administration should follow the same model Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and I crafted in 2011 to bring Iran to the negotiating table. Since then, Congress passed multiple rounds of sanctions against Iran, which restricted the regime’s oil revenues held in foreign banks and significantly curtailed its oil sales. By 2013, Iran’s currency plunged nearly 80 percent, and its oil exports were cut in half.

The measures against Iran proved effective because companies engaged in Iran had a choice: do business with the $16 trillion U.S. economy or continue to do business with a much smaller Iranian economy shunned by the West. Although I remain skeptical regarding the ultimate end of Iran’s nuclear program, these sanctions were successful in bringing Tehran to the negotiating table.

Russia, like Iran, is a petrostate heavily dependent on energy revenues to prop up its economy. In 2012, oil and gas revenues represented 52 percent of Russia’s budget and 70 percent of the country’s total export market, according to the Energy Information Administration. By targeting Russia’s oil revenue and specific sectors of its economy with sanctions, Russia will feel real economic pressure. If carefully implemented and supported by our European allies, the Menendez-Kirk Iran sanctions model when applied to Russia will minimize harm to the global economy, while sending Putin a strong message that aggression will not be tolerated.

Last week I, along with 22 of my Senate colleagues, introduced the Russian Prevention Aggression Act (S.2277), legislation that takes significant steps to increase sanctions. Among its provisions, the bill would impose sanctions on four key Russian banks, its state-owned energy monopolies Gazprom and Rosneft, as well as the major Russian arms dealer Rosoboronexport. The bill also increases U.S. support for Ukraine, as well as Poland and our other NATO allies.

Vladimir Putin’s goal is to re-create the Soviet empire and to prevent a Europe whole, free and at peace. While Republicans and Democrats disagree about how weak Obama is on Ukraine, both parties agree that the Iran sanctions were effective in bringing both sides to the table.

Mark Kirk, a Republican, is the junior senators from Illinois.

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