Don’t Let Putin’s Enablers Escape the Sanctions Regime

Don’t Let Putin’s Enablers Escape the Sanctions Regime

The involvement of Armenia and Belarus in Russian attempts to evade sanctions demonstrates how Moscow is empowered by its broader sphere of influence.

After Russian president Vladimir Putin formally annexed four Ukrainian regions last month, the United States responded with more punitive sanctions against Moscow. Yet in its quest to counter Putin’s aggression, the Biden administration must also ask: Who are the Kremlin’s enablers?

In that regard, the United States took a step in the right direction on September 30 by imposing new sanctions on companies from Armenia, Belarus, and China over their support of the Russian military.

While directly sanctioning individuals in Russia’s military-industrial complex, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control added sanctions against the Belarusian state-owned textile and fiber manufacturer Sohim, which provides material to Russia’s defense industry; Sinno Electronics Co., a Chinese supplier of Radioavtomatika, a U.S.-designated Russian defense procurement firm known for evading sanctions; and Taco LLC, an Armenian supplier of Radioavtomatika.

Both Sinno and Taco have “materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of Radioavtomatika,” the Treasury Department stated. Treasury’s announcement added that the State Department “is also taking steps to impose visa restrictions on an additional 910 individuals, including members of the Russian Federation’s military, Belarusian military officials, and Russia’s proxies acting in Russia-held portions of Ukraine.”

The involvement of Armenia and Belarus in Russian attempts to evade sanctions demonstrates how Moscow is empowered by its broader sphere of influence. Notably, Belarus and Armenia are among the six members of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), an intergovernmental Eurasian military alliance that is informally known as “Putin’s NATO.”

Armenia’s propensity for enabling Russia also came to the fore at the start of the Russia-Ukrainian War, when it was the only nation to vote against the Council of Europe’s decision to suspend Russia from the forty-seven-member body. Also on February 22, Armenian separatists in the Karabakh region lauded Moscow’s recognition of two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent republics.

Why would Armenia be the outlier in defending the international pariah that is Russia? It should come as no surprise given the highly intertwined nature of Russian-Armenian ties, as Armenia is home to both Russia’s 102nd Military Base in Gyumri and its 3624th Airbase near Yerevan.

Meanwhile, Armenia’s inclusion in the new Treasury sanctions should be viewed within the context of the country’s historic role as a sanctions-buster for rogue regimes. In 2012, Reuters exposed how Armenian financial institutions assisted Iran through illicit banking that allowed Tehran to “obfuscate payments to and from foreign clients and deceive Western intelligence agencies trying to prevent it from expanding its nuclear and missile programs.” Additionally, in 2019, the Treasury Department sanctioned Armenia-based Flight Travel LLC for its connection to Iranian Mahan Air, which is linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization.

Armenia’s sanctions-busting capabilities run deeper when considering its role in another Russian-led bloc, the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), which accepted Iran as a member in October 2019. Tehran’s membership in the alliance means that Iranian goods can be exported to EAEU states (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia) with virtually no tariffs. As Armenia is the only EAEU member that maintains a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the European Union, the Iran-Armenia border functions as a conduit for bringing Iranian commerce directly to Europe.

Through the recently levied Treasury sanctions, the United States has taken a crucial first step towards incorporating Putin’s enablers into its calculus to mitigate the impact of the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. With the invasion now making the disturbing transition to annexation, it is incumbent upon Washington to expand this foreign policy strategy.

Paul Miller is a media and political consultant based in the Chicago area. His commentary has been published in USA Today, the New York Daily News, the New York Post, Newsweek, and The Hill. Follow him on Twitter at @pauliespoint.

Image: Reuters.