Indian-American Daleep Singh is Biden’s Point-man for Russia sanctions

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Daleep Singh, White House Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economics and Deputy Director of the National Economic Council. Photo: newyorkfed.org

Over the last few weeks, the appearance of the White House Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economics and Deputy Director of the National Economic Council, Daleep Singh, appearing at media briefings, has indicated the key role he is playing in deciding on the course of economic sanctions against Russia as that country’s forces invade Ukraine.

This Feb. 24, 2022, Singh “back by popular demand” at the daily White House press briefing, outlined the start of even more stringent economic sanctions against Moscow.

“If he decides he’s not going to be an economic expert anymore, he might have a future in our business or in our — in the press office,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, .

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Starting by saying “this (is) a briefing I never wanted to give,” Singh detailed the actions of the Biden administration, describing them as long-term strategic economic sanctions that would hobble the Russian economy.

Quoting President Biden who said that if Moscow invaded Ukraine, “the cost to Russia will be immediate and profound — to its financial system, to its economy, to its technology base, and to its strategic position in the world,” Singh said Putin’s “flagrant violation” of international law, required U.S. “now ensure his decision is remembered as a strategic failure.”

“Today, we imposed an unprecedented package of financial sanctions and export restrictions in lockstep with our Allies and partners that will isolate Russia from the global financial system, shut down its access to cutting-edge technology, and undercut Putin’s strategic ambitions to diversify and modernize his economy,” Singh said.

However, throughout the briefing Singh stressed that Russia’s energy sector was off the table at this point in order not to affect countries around the world. Russia is the second largest producer of oil in the world.

The U.S. imposed sanctions on Russia’s two largest financial institutions — Sberbank and VTB — which together hold more than half of the Russian banking system’s assets — over $750 billion in total.

For VTB, the U.S. is freezing all of its assets touching the U.S. financial system and prohibit U.S. persons from doing any business with the bank.  For Sberbank, its access to the U.S. financial system is being severed.  In addition, the assets of three additional Russian banks with combined assets of over $70 billion, are being frozen, and no business dealing would be allowed with them, and U.S. investors are being prohibited from providing debt or equity financing for 13 of the most critical Russian state-owned enterprises, which combined have estimated assets nearing $1.5 trillion.

“And finally, we’ll also impose sanctions on the executives at these state-owned institutions, as well as additional Russian elites who are complicit in Putin’s kleptocracy and their family members,” Singh added.

Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economics Daleep Singh speaking at White House briefing on sanctions against Russia Feb. 24, 2022. Photo: Videograb from C-Span.org

In a fast-moving situation, where Russian forces were positioned on the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv, with simultaneous offers from Moscow to meet Ukrainian officials in Minsk, Belarus, to discuss that country’s “neutrality”, it is not clear what other steps will be taken by Washington in coming days.

Singh said the financial sanctions are being accompanied by “an expansive and unprecedented set of export restrictions that would result in sweeping restrictions on Russian military end users to impair Putin’s military capabilities and will also deny exports across Russia to sensitive, cutting-edge technology, primarily targeting Russia’s defense, aerospace, and maritime sectors.

In total, the United States and our partners will effectively be cutting off more than half of all high-tech imports going into Russia.  This includes curbing Russia’s access to advance semiconductors and other foundational technologies that Russia needs to diversify and modernize its economy.

“Working in tandem, these financial sanctions and the export controls will undercut Putin’s aspirations to project power on the world stage,” Singh said.

The news outlet Politico, has attributed the sanctions strategy to Singh, even naming it “The Daleep Doctrine” in a Feb. 24, article.

Singh described the effects Russia was already feeling with a plunging stock market, weakening of the Ruble, and its price for borrowing, ultimately resulting in “lower growth and lower living standards in Russia.”

“To be clear: This is not the outcome we wanted.  It’s both a tragedy for the people of Ukraine and a very raw deal for the Russian people.  But Putin’s war of choice has required that we do what we said and to ensure this will be a strategic failure,” Singh added.

At the same time, the U.S. and its allies were attempting to minimize the cost to the U.S. and its allies and partners, Singh emphasized.

At the same time, he clarified, “Our sanctions are not designed to cause any disruption to the current flow of energy from Russia to the world.  We’ve carved out energy payments on a time-bound basis to allow for an orderly transition of these flows away from sanctioned institutions, and we’ve provided other licenses to provide for an orderly winddown of business,” Singh said.

Politico described Singh as “a relatively unknown figure … Singh has quickly become a vital official in the White House and the unlikely top of the spear in the Administration’s economic battle with Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN.”

Singh described the drastic economic impact of the new sanctions, adding, “Now, it’s going to be up to President Putin to decide, ultimately, how much cost he’s willing to bear,” and that “We understand that these costs will accumulate over time.”

According to the Politico analysis, “Over the last several weeks, Biden has been following Singh’s strategy to the letter.”

At the Feb. 24 briefing Singh warned Moscow not to doubt Washington’s resolve to progressively tighten economic sanctions. “But let me — let me also step back and say that when we consider which sanctions to apply, we’re not cowboys and cowgirls pressing a button to impose costs; we follow a set of principles,” Singh said.  “We want the sanctions to be impactful enough to demonstrate our resolve and to show that we have the capacity to deliver overwhelming costs to Russia.  That’s one,” he said, adding, “Number two, we want them to be responsible, to avoid even the perception of targeting the average Russian civilian and, of course, unwanted spillovers back to the U.S. or the global economy.”

Plus, Singh noted, the actions would stay coordinated with Allies and partners, be flexible so that they can escalated or de-escalated, and lastly, be sustainable and work over the long term.

“That’s what will guide our design,” he emphasized.

Because U.S. and its allies had a strategic advantage in the economic sector, its sanctions were targeted there, Singh said, but “When it comes to energy: This is the one area — this is the one area where Russia has systemic importance in the global economy.  We know it’s the second-largest natural gas producer in the world.  It’s also the second-largest crude oil producer in the world.”

“… we’re not going to do anything which causes an unintended disruption to the flow of energy, as the global economic recovery is still underway,” Singh clarified more than once during the briefing.

Singh’s thinking was laid out in one of his comments about the current global configuration and the sanctions.

“Strategic success in the 21st century is not about a physical land grab of territory.  That’s what Putin has done. …
In this century, power — strategic power is increasingly measured and exercised by economic strength, by technological sophistication, and your story — who you are, what your values are, can you attract ideas and talent and goodwill.  On each of those measures, this would be a failure for Russia,” Singh said.

Singh, a graduate of Ivy League Universities, worked earlier in President Obama’s Treasury Department. He was a key policymaker during the earlier sanctions put on Russia after it annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.

On June 4, 2021, Singh wrote an Op-Ed on “Supporting the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Community,” where he said, “My story is the story of so many other Indian Americans. In search of a better life for their kids – and maybe a bit of adventure for themselves – my parents left India for America in the 1970s. I was born in Maryland, spent a few years in Chicago, and settled in North Carolina when I was about seven years old.” (See the whole text at whitehouse.gov).

“Surrounded by a loving family, I felt like I was part of something bigger than myself, and that my life meant something to those around me,” he wrote.

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