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We Cannot Ignore Russian Interference

Thirteen Russians were indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for interference in the 2016 US elections. The Special Counsel’s indictment described an extensive campaign by Russian actors to exploit our political and societal differences. They faked being Black Lives Matters activists to discourage African American electoral participation. They promoted allegations of voter fraud. They sponsored and coordinated US political rallies both in support and opposition to candidate Donald Trump to capitalize on growing political tensions.

We cannot ignore that the Russian government was behind such operations. These tactics come straight from playbooks that the Soviets utilized to sow divisions during the Cold War, only amplified today in the age of social media. The United States government recently levied sanctions against Russia for its activities. However, these sanctions do not go far enough. US sanctions need to expand and target areas critical to Russian economic and political success, specifically the energy sector and oligarchic business leaders.

No state should interfere or covertly influence the outcome of a US election. Russia seeks to alter US perceptions, sow political divisions, and elect pro-Russian political candidates. The Trump administration has continued many of the previous US sanctions against Russia, but these sanctions have failed to stop Russian political interference and ongoing social media disinformation. The US should expand current sanctions levied against the Russian economic elite, a source of critical Putin support.

Sanctions on Russian energy companies and business leaders will demonstrate that the United States is serious about deterring any further activity and will punish those with the most political clout.

Sanctions on the Russian energy sector will further depress the Russian economy. Russia’s economic success depends on access to open energy markets. Sanctions against Rosneft, Gazprom, and other oil titans would hit the oligarchy’s pocketbooks and place pressure on President Putin.

Sanctions on the Russian energy sector are an appropriate international response. Our allies will agree to sanctions because they, too, have been victims of Russian interference. Russia sought to influence elections in Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, and our allies will want to join us in actions to deter future Russian interference.

Sanctions on the Russian energy sector will have minimal impact on the US, because our trade flow with Russia is so small. Europe bears greater risk as it depends heavily on Russian energy, but US energy growth can offset the risk. Expansion of domestic energy production and energy trade with Europe will blunt its dependence on Russia.

Some critics argue that sanctions are ineffective and will not stop further Russian conduct. The critics are wrong. US-Ukraine sanctions clearly hurt the Russian economy. Energy sanctions will hit Russia where it really matters. They will limit its ability to operate in global energy markets, undercut its influence, and cause it to think again about election interference.

Russian disinformation activities and the indictment of thirteen Russian actors are just the tip of the iceberg. Russian interference has not stopped and likely will not stop moving into the 2018 midterms and 2020 president election. The United States cannot pretend that this conduct did not occur. Further action is imperative to prevent future conduct.

The United States is filled with stubborn folk. We do not like it when anyone manipulates us or exploits our differences. These differences are our differences to debate and resolve ourselves. The world must know that United States will not be influenced, controlled, or manipulated. We stand firm, resolute, and unyielding in defense of our democracy.