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Do the U.S. sanctions against Russia have any bite?

U.S. sanctions targeting 19 Russians is the strongest response to Moscow's interference in the 2016 election and other campaigns and cyberattacks since President Trump took office. Judy Woodruff talks with Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, about whether the sanctions have any bite any what they say about U.S.-Russia relations.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We return now to the Trump administration's sanctions on Russia that were announced today and what they say about Washington's relationship with Moscow.

    Michael McFaul was U.S. ambassador to Russia during the Obama administration. He is now at Stanford University. His latest book is "From Cold War to Hot Peace- An American Ambassador in Putin's Russia."

    Michael McFaul, welcome back to the NewsHour.

  • Michael McFaul:

    Thanks for having me.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you for being with us.

    What effect do you think these steps, these measures will have?

  • Michael McFaul:

    Well, in the short term, not much.

    Let's be clear. They're pretty minor sanctions on minor individuals, at least the ones affiliated with the IRA that you just described, the ones that interfered in our elections.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The Internet Research Agency?

  • Michael McFaul:

    Exactly. They're the ones that were heavily involved in all kinds of propaganda efforts during the 2016 elections, and afterwards, by the way.

    But I think, symbolically, it's important. First of all, it's better that they did something, rather than nothing. Second of all, it shows now that the Trump administration itself acknowledges that there was interference in our elections, and that Mueller's investigation is achieving results.

    So it may not change Putin's calculus right away, but I think that was an important symbolic first.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How noteworthy is it that it has taken this many months for the administration to make that acknowledgment, as you describe it?

  • Michael McFaul:

    It's been disappointing to me, you know, that we have been having this debate as a country for years now.

    Everybody agrees that this happened. And for literally years, first candidate Trump and then President Trump was saying, it's all a hoax, it's all made up.

    Today, as you just played on you clip before us coming on, he has now said something concrete about it. I wish he would be more enthusiastic about his own administration's policy towards Russia. I wish he would say, this is outrageous, this should never happen, and there needs to be a price to pay, and not only for 2016, but for the many other things that Putin has done, including the assassination attempt in the U.K.

    He's still not quite there yet, but at least this is a step, a small step in the right direction.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You said, taken one by one, these are minimal steps for the U.S. to take, but let me ask you about that, sanctions targeting 19 Russians.

    We heard just a moment ago Yevgeny Prigozhin, one of the, I guess, oligarchs of people close to Vladimir Putin, someone…

  • Michael McFaul:

    Yes, he is.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … in the private sector in Russia, saying, this isn't going to have any effect on me.

    I think that raises a question, are we — are they going to have any bite at all?

  • Michael McFaul:

    Well, generally speaking, putting on my social science hat for a minute, you know, measuring the causal impact of sanctions on the target country, that is a hard question. Russia's a big country, so it takes longer for sanctions to have a bite there.

    My own view is that, over the years, sanctions have been working. I think there's a way to measure that in terms of reduction in GDP. I think, secondly, the fact that the largest joint venture in the history of Russian-American relations between the oil company, Russian oil company Rosneft, and ExxonMobil, that dissolved, that's a result of sanctions.

    And, third, on an individual level, Mr. Prigozhin's life, it just became a lot more difficult, first because of the indictments and now because of the sanctions. He can't just show up to London. He can't go to the Italian Riviera.

    He has to be concerned with respect to the indictment. And, likewise, the individuals who are sanctioned, it does make their lives a lot harder.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, when we reported, as we did a moment ago, Russian security services, military intelligence are going to have their U.S. assets frozen, you're saying that might have — might make them feel something?

  • Michael McFaul:

    Well, that's a different category. I'm glad you brought that up, because that category, in fact, in the new sanctions that were done today is different and independent from the set of sanctions that were put in place with respect to our elections.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Michael McFaul:

    Those organizations, they probably have assets. If we can track them down, we should freeze them. But they're probably clandestine assets here.

    I don't expect that to have a great impact in terms of how they do their operations around the world. But, again, calling them out, acknowledging that this happened, that they're attacking our infrastructure — remember, that's what's in the indictment today — just that, in and of itself, I think, is advancing the ball to make Americans, to make the rest of the world understand the dangers of Vladimir Putin and these what I consider outrageous behavior in the U.K., in the United States, in the Ukraine, in Syria.

    It's time that we have a concerted pushback on all of these activities.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Michael McFaul, what do you make of the fact that this is coming just a day after Great Britain, the U.K., took some significant steps against Russia as well, the statement by Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday that they — overwhelming evidence that the Russians were behind that nerve gas attack on the former Russian spy?

  • Michael McFaul:

    So, I don't know if it's coincidence or to change the channel. I honestly don't know.

    But I do know that that assassination attempt — some are calling it a terrorist attack — in the U.K., one of our closest allies, a NATO ally, demands another response. This is not that.

    And if you listen to Ambassador Haley, if you look at the statement, which I applaud, that the four countries put out, Germany, France, the U.K. and the United States, condemning this attack and saying that it was the Russian government, that's the good news. They have now called them out.

    Now comes the hard part. How are we going to respond to that attack? I think it does demand another set of sanctions and maybe other kinds of responses to come from the United States.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So you're looking for more from this administration?

  • Michael McFaul:

    Absolutely. They have all said this is a defining moment. I think that's what Ambassador Haley said. Well, a defining moment demands a defining response.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, thank you very much.

  • Michael McFaul:

    Thanks for having me.

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