Russia’s lower house of parliament, the Duma, has approved a counter-sanctions bill aimed at imposing what lawmakers say are “painful” trade restrictions on the United States and other states they call “unfriendly.”
In its third and final reading Tuesday, lawmakers argued the counter-sanctions bill was essential to safeguarding the “security and interests” of Russia. The law is expected to pass easily in Russia’s upper house of parliament and be signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.
The measure gives the Russian leader broad authority to ban goods from the U.S. and other states the Kremlin deems as hostile to Russia.
Yet, the decision to allow the Kremlin to determine which goods would be targeted reflected concerns that proposals for an outright ban on American goods — including essential medicines not produced domestically — would hurt Russian consumers and businesses.
The legislation is widely seen as a Kremlin response to U.S.-led penalties levied against key Russian quasi-state companies last April over what the White House deemed “malign Russian activities.”
Those U.S. sanctions included moves against Russian steel and aluminum that briefly rocked global markets and cut into Russian exports.
The decision prompted another parallel move Tuesday: Russia informed the World Trade Organization Moscow was prepared to impose tariffs on American aluminum and steel to compensate for losses at a cost of half a billion dollars.
Over the past two years, Moscow and Washington have engaged in a spiraling sanctions war that shows few signs of ending.
In addition to passing the bill Tuesday, the Duma is preparing a second anti-sanctions measure that would impose criminal liability against business and individuals that comply with Western sanctions against Russian economic interests.
Should it pass, the legislation would provide potential additional legal pitfalls for opposition figures such as anti-corruption crusader Alexey Navalny, who have called on Western governments to ratchet up sanctions against key Kremlin insiders.
Outside economic experts have also questioned the rationale of issuing sanctions in response to sanctions. In particular, they warn that economic countermeasures work to further isolate the Russian economy — scaring away potential foreign investors just as the economy is emerging from a multi-year recession.
President Putin was sworn into a fourth term in office earlier this month amid promises to focus on repairing the economy and improving living standards for Russians.