Symbolic Pressure on Russia Is Increasing in the United States, but Supporters Want More.

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Washington, District of Columbia – Yaro Hetman wants the US to do more for Ukraine, following Russia’s intensified attacks on the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, and advance on the capital, Kyiv, on Tuesday.

Yetman, who moved to the United States from Ukraine when he was nine years old, has been leading protests in front of the White House since Russia invaded Ukraine late last week. The military offensive, now in its sixth day, has displaced hundreds of thousands of people and prompted international condemnation and a slew of sanctions, including against Russia’s largest banks.

Yetman, however, told Al Jazeera that such measures will do little to halt Russia’s advance. “They will never be sufficient to cripple Russia’s war machine. This is why we are urging President [Joe] Biden to keep his promise and impose crippling – not symbolic – sanctions,” he said, urging Moscow to be dropped from the SWIFT banking system.

Yetman later told a crowd of demonstrators in the US capital, “We appreciate all of the support we have received thus far.” We require additional.”

Sanctions imposed by the US

The Biden administration, in coordination with its European allies, imposed sanctions on major Russian banks, as well as on Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in response to what it described as the Kremlin’s “unjustified, unprovoked, and premeditated invasion of Ukraine.”

Ukraine has urged the West to consider imposing a “no-fly zone” to halt Russia’s attacks, but the White House has rejected the idea, claiming that it would result in an unwelcome “direct conflict” between Washington and Moscow.

According to a CNN poll conducted on February 25 and 26 – the first days of the Russian invasion – 83% of respondents supported increased economic sanctions against Russia, while 62% desired that Washington do more to halt Moscow’s military operation.

Congress is also feeling the heat, according to John Herbst, the former US ambassador to Ukraine. “Both parties in Congress have been tougher on Russia… than the Biden administration,” Herbst said, adding that this could be one of the reasons the White House has now strengthened its sanctions.

Herbst told Al Jazeera that “public pressure may be a factor.”

Outside the White House, a woman holds a sign that reads, ‘Stop Russia Aggression.’

The imposition of severe sanctions against Moscow, the supply of weapons to Ukraine by the US and its allies, and the deployment of NATO forces to Eastern Europe have been among the more forceful responses to the Russian invasion thus far, Herbst said.

However, the one action that many experts agree would have the most crippling economic impact on Russia is not supported by the US government or public, he added: oil and natural gas sanctions. “I don’t believe we will see energy sector sanctions because the [Biden] administration is concerned about the price of gas,” Herbst said.

Gestures symbolic

Nonetheless, in the face of widespread public outrage over Russia’s invasion of its neighbour, a slew of symbolic gestures have been made at the local and state levels throughout the United States in solidarity with the Ukrainian people and in opposition to Russia’s advance.

Crowds marched in New York City and other major cities; US landmarks such as the Empire State Building were lit in the Ukrainian flag’s blue and yellow colours; and several states have prohibited the sale or import of Russian-made vodka.

Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, one of the US states that has banned the sale of Russian vodka, said the move was “a show of solidarity and support for the Ukrainian people and an expression of our collective revulsion at the Russian state’s unprovoked actions.”

While the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States estimates that over 75 million nine-litre cases of vodka will be sold in the United States in 2020, many observers have stressed that the ban is largely symbolic – and will have a limited economic impact on Moscow.

“Russian vodka is less than 1% of the market in the United States,” Mif Frank, who owns several wine and spirits stores in the state of Ohio, told Al Jazeera, adding that the ban was “the right thing to do.”

Meanwhile, a number of US states have taken or are considering taking action against Russia in spheres of influence.

Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul of New York, for example, signed an executive order prohibiting the state from doing business with Russia, while Democratic Governor Roy Cooper of North Carolina directed state agencies to terminate government contracts with Russian businesses.

 

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Boycotts in the arts and sports

Additionally, US sport, cultural, and business organisations have stepped up their efforts against Russia.

The Metropolitan Opera in New York City announced that it would cease collaboration with performers or institutions that have expressed support for Russian President Putin, while Disney announced that it would halt theatrical releases in Russia. Sony Pictures Entertainment and Warner Brothers have also indicated that they will take a similar course of action.

FedEx and UPS announced that they would suspend deliveries to Russia and Ukraine over the weekend, and major technology companies such as Facebook have restricted access to Russian state media outlets in the European Union due to concerns about disinformation.

The National Hockey League (NHL) announced Monday that it was suspending relations with business partners in Russia in response to the country’s invasion of Ukraine, as well as pausing its Russian-language social and digital media platforms. “In addition, we have withdrawn any consideration of Russia as a potential location for future NHL competitions,” the league said in a statement.

 

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The US ambassador to Ukraine expressed gratitude for the international community’s actions thus far, but urged American businesses to take additional steps.

“I understand how difficult it is, and I understand that this is about business interests,” Ambassador Oksana Markarova told ABC’s This Week. “However, I believe it is time to consider preserving reputations and refraining from cooperating with a regime that will end up in the Hague for everything they have done and are doing in Ukraine.”

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