Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a former prime minister of Denmark, urged the Trump administration on Thursday to ramp up U.S. sanctions against Russia over its 2014 annexation of Crimea.
Rasmussen said the Kremlin has signaled through recent actions that it has no intent to withdraw from eastern Ukraine or to comply with the 2015 Minsk ceasefire agreement. He called on President Donald Trump to escalate sanctions against Moscow and to provide lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine in response to Russia's ongoing military build-up in the country.
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"There is no doubt that sanctions have prevented Russia from taking more land," Rasmussen said during a panel at the conservative Hudson Institute in Washington.
"Secondly, the sanctions have kept Russia at the negotiating table. Within the Minsk framework, we have forced the Russians into a dialogue—it hasn't been successful so far, but at least we have a forum for discussions with Russia. The sanctions have also had a significant economic impact on Russia," he added.
The International Monetary Fund reported in 2015 that Russia has faced a 1.5 percent reduction in output GDP due to combined U.S. and European Union sanctions. This impact is not felt in the United States, primarily because American trade with Russia makes up less than 1 percent of its total trade with the world.
The economic costs are substantially more severe in Europe, where export shares to Russia are far greater than those in the United States. Sandy Vershbow, former deputy secretary general of NATO, told the panel that the success of sanctions against Moscow is reliant on ongoing coordination between the United States and its European partners.
The White House in January suggested that U.S. sanctions against Russia were "under consideration," drawing pushback from key Republican senators and Democratic lawmakers who opposed an easing. President Trump has since walked back the suggestion.
Rasmussen said it is imperative that the United States at the very least maintain current sanctions levels against Moscow.
"If the U.S. administration were to ease the sanctions or lift the sanctions it would definitely lead to a complete abolition of the whole sanctions regime," he said. "European nations would use the new signals from Washington as an excuse for getting rid of [sanctions] because there's no doubt that European companies are affected by this."
Rasmussen said it was unlikely sanctions would be strengthened in Europe this year when they are up for renewal in June given the upcoming elections in Germany and France, but he encouraged Trump to take immediate action.