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US Lawmakers Push Sanctions to Cripple Russia Amid Ukraine Crisis

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If Russia chooses to invade Ukraine, the financial punishment would be extremely high. Senate Republicans and Democrats are working together to create a sanctions package they believe could deal a devastating blow.

"It's to include a variety of elements, massive sanctions against the most significant Russian banks,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NY) told CNN, adding that the sanctions would cripple the economy and affect “the average Russian in their accounts and pensions.”

Menendez said these sanctions go beyond any ever levied, although some experts worry they don't go far enough.

“I do think the sanctions that they're discussing are important, but I don't know that by themselves, it is sufficient to cause the kind of effect on the Russian economy that is going to be needed if we are to truly make Putin think twice,” says Marshall Billingslea, a senior fellow at Hudson Institute.

Billingslea, former Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing at the Treasury Department, tells CBN News that U.S. sanctions should go after four key Russian exports.

“I’m talking about timber. I'm talking about machinery, parts and tools. We don't buy this stuff, really, from Russia in the U.S., but they do export it around Europe. I'm talking about metals, and other kinds of chemical products like fertilizers and plastics,” he says. 

According to Billingslea, those four sectors account for about 30 percent of the extra money Russia brings in each year. He believes targeting them would cause a massive inflation spike and potentially jeopardize Putin’s power.

Billingslea argues rather than waiting to respond to any invasion, the Biden administration needs to act now. “The financial ripples that would create would be immediately felt in Moscow, and it might, just might, cause him to take a step back and reconsider,” he says. 

As the U.S. prepares for various scenarios, a growing number of Americans wonder why we should be involved at all.

Billingslea points to Russia’s role as a major energy exporter. “If they invade and then sanctions, even sanctions on banks, would have the effect of disrupting the energy trade, and we will see an immediate spike in gas prices at the pump,” says Billingslea.

There's also the fact that Ukraine is one of the world's leading exporters of things Americans use on a daily basis like wheat, potatoes, and tomatoes.

“The last thing we need is a scramble around the world to buy potatoes because the Russian potato farms are now under, or the Ukrainian potato farms are now under Russian occupation…and the farmers have all fled,” says Billingslea.

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo emphasized the point as well. 

"Almost a third of the wheat, red winter wheat that travels across the world, comes out of Ukraine and Russia and goes through the Black Sea, the very thing that has been threatened by Vladimir Putin. These things matter to the global food supply say. If you're living in the outskirts of Las Vegas, or Bakersfield or in Tennessee, or Georgia or in the upper Midwest, you depend on these stable food supplies,” Pompeo said. 

Billingslea also points to America's long-standing commitment for democracy. “This discussion about letting the democratic country of Ukraine fall prey to a dictator like Vladimir Putin is not what we as Americans should stand for,” he says. 

As lawmakers work to finalize their sanctions package, Billingslea warns that unprecedented acts of aggression, warrant a truly unprecedented response.

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About The Author

Caitlin Burke Headshot

Caitlin Burke serves as National Security Correspondent and a general assignment reporter for CBN News. She has also hosted the CBN News original podcast, The Daily Rundown. Some of Caitlin’s recent stories have focused on the national security threat posed by China, America’s military strength, and vulnerabilities in the U.S. power grid. She joined CBN News in July 2010, and over the course of her career, she has had the opportunity to cover stories both domestically and abroad. Caitlin began her news career working as a production assistant in Richmond, Virginia, for the NBC affiliate WWBT