Putin justifed Russia’s withdrawing by pointing to “a core change of circumstances, arising from: a threat to strategic stability, resulting from the unfriendly actions of the United States towards Russia; the inability of the U.S. to live up to its responsibilities under international agreements for properly disposing of excess plutonium; and with the need for urgent measures to be undertaken to defend the Russian Federation”.

But the three preconditions for the resumption of the agreement listed in Putin’s bill are more telling: 1) the United States must repeal the Magnitsky Act; 2) the United States must abolish all sanctions in place against all Russian citizens and organization currently in place; and 3) the United States must pay for the damages incurred by the Russian Federation as a result of the aforementioned sanctions, including any costs born from counter-sanctions the Russian Federation was forced to undertake.

Trying to so brazenly blackmail a counter-party by threatening to walk away from a treaty speaks volumes about the way Putin sees the world. Needless to say, the plutonium agreement, which was signed and ratified by the Russian Duma, contains no provisions for simply pausing its implementation, by act of President or otherwise. . . .

This is not the first time that Moscow has tried to bully Washington over sanctions relief. Just over a year ago, Vladimir Putin addressed the United Nations General Assembly, and met with U.S. President Barack Obama. In his speech, Putin presented Russia as a vital peacemaker in the Middle East, and the key to effectively combating ISIS. He also bitterly complained about “unilateral” use of sanctions, in contravention to the UN charter.
If the linkage was not clear enough in the speech (and whatever was said personally to Obama), the Kremlin was good at following up. Several messengers from the Kremlin have passed through Washington in the intervening months to lobby the White House, arguing that effective anti-terrorism cooperation between the two countries is impossible while sanctions are in place.

The sanctions are hurting.