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Putin uses sanctions to target Trump’s perceived U.S. foes

Vladimir Putin’s government has expanded its list of sanctioned Americans, this time targeting Donald Trump’s perceived domestic foes.


There’s plenty of precedent for Russia imposing sanctions on prominent Americans who’ve criticized Vladimir Putin’s government. Nearly a decade ago, for example, after Russia took Crimea, the Kremlin faced bipartisan condemnations in Washington, D.C.

Soon after, Moscow announced sanctions against Republicans such as then-House Speaker John Boehner and then-Sen. John McCain, as well as several Democrats, including then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and then-Sen. Mary Landrieu.

None of the officials, it’s worth noting for context, seemed especially bothered. Landrieu even launched a campaign ad bragging about it.

But in each instance, Russia’s sanctions at least made some sense: They targeted prominent American policymakers, each of whom had at least some role in U.S. foreign policy, and each of whom had criticized Moscow’s policies to one degree or another.

Things are different now. The New York Times reported over the weekend that Russia has expanded its list of sanctioned Americans, but this time, Putin is “adopting perceived enemies of former President Donald J. Trump as his own.”

Among the 500 people singled out for travel and financial restrictions on Friday were Americans seen as adversaries by Mr. Trump, including Letitia James, the state attorney general of New York who has sued him for alleged fraud, and Jack Smith, the Justice Department special counsel investigating his efforts to overturn the 2020 election and his handling of classified documents after leaving office. Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state of Georgia who rebuffed Mr. Trump’s pressure to “find” enough votes to reverse the outcome of the election, also made the list.

What do James, Smith, and Raffensperger have to do with U.S. foreign policy? Nothing. What kind of condemnations have they issued in reference to the Kremlin and its policies? As best as I can tell, they’ve hardly said a word.

But Trump doesn’t like them, and for Putin, that’s apparently enough.

Perhaps most amazing of all, Russia also imposed sanctions on Lt. Michael Byrd, whose name might not seem familiar: He’s the Capitol Police officer who shot rioter Ashli Babbitt during the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The Times’ report added, The Russian Foreign Ministry offered no specific explanation for why they would be included on the list but did say that among its targets were ‘those in government and law enforcement agencies who are directly involved in the persecution of dissidents in the wake of the so-called storming of the Capitol.’”

The use of the phrase “so-called storming,” of course, was unsubtle. The Kremlin isn’t just targeting Trump’s perceived domestic foes, Putin and his government are even embracing Trump’s preferred rhetorical framings about stories the Republican doesn’t like.

It’s tempting to think Moscow sees Trump as some kind of partner, and as the former president tries to reclaim his old White House office, Putin wants to leave little doubt that he would be aligned with a Republican administration.

As for the reactions from those sanctioned, Raffensperger hasn’t yet run any Landrieu-like commercials, but he did seem rather pleased with the developments.

Disclosure: It’s worth noting that among those sanctioned are current and former employees of MSNBC, my employer. In fact, the newest list includes my friend Rachel Maddow, whose show I work for.