Brian O'Toole

  • Two Years of Trump: Key Moments in Foreign Policy

    January 20 marks two years since US President Donald J. Trump took office. We take a look back at some of the big foreign policy headlines made by the president and his administration over these past two years.


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  • O'Toole Quoted in Newsweek on House Republicans voting against Trump Administration lifting sanctions on oligarchs


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  • Memo to Congress: Treasury’s Plan to Lift Sanctions on Russian Oligarch’s Companies is a Good One

    US lawmakers must not allow understandable concerns about US President Donald J. Trump’s views of Russia to overshadow the technical merits of the administration’s divestiture plan to remove sanctions on aluminum giant Rusal and two other companies—EN+ and EuroSibEnergo, or ESE—sanctioned for their ties to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. After months of negotiations, Treasury officials have arrived at a delisting arrangement worthy of careful consideration and approval.


    US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s January 10 congressional briefing on the details of the administration’s divestiture plan,  and the ongoing attention to this issue, sharpens the debate on whether the Rusal delisting is the appropriate action and whether Congress ought to exercise its authority under the Countering America’s Adversaries

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  • O'Toole quoted in Newsweek on Trump Administration lifting sanctions on Putin-linked oligarch companies


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  • The RUSAL Deal: A Good Outcome?

    The Trump administration’s long-awaited decision to delist aluminum giant RUSAL finally became public on December 19. The deal that RUSAL’s holding company EN+ has struck with the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is sure to draw the ire of those who want to see RUSAL continue under sanctions as a means to punish the Russian economy. The deeper view, however, is that sanctions targeting RUSAL’s founder and now indirect minority shareholder, Oleg Deripaska, worked exactly the way they are supposed to and that Deripaska’s fate should frighten other Russian oligarchs who cooperate with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s misadventures abroad or are part of his corrupt circle. OFAC was also smart to pair the delisting with additional designations to demonstrate a continued stance against the Kremlin’s aggressions.


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  • Beware the Lure of Sanctions for Russia’s Latest Aggression

    It’s Monday, which means that Russia is again antagonizing its neighbors to the west. But instead of little green men, Wagner “private” security forces, or Russian regulars acting under another flag, this time the FSB—Russia’s internal security service—openly fired upon and captured three Ukrainian naval vessels attempting to traverse the Kerch Strait that separates the two countries. This is a significant escalation by Moscow of tensions that have simmered for months as Russia has harassed legitimate and important Ukrainian trade ships that traverse the disputed strait to Ukrainian ports on the Sea of Azov. The chief dispute, of course, centers on Russia’s illegal invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014 and...
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  • O'Toole and Mortlock Report Quoted in Bloomberg on Sanctions


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  • Skripal and Beyond: The Post-Election Russia Sanctions Landscape

    The US State Department made an important, if expected, announcement to Congress on November 6 that it was unable to certify that Russia had met the conditions in the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 (CBW Act) necessary to stave off a second round of sanctions. The notification drew relatively little domestic coverage—coming, as it did, during the fever pitch of the US midterm elections—but it did garner an angry statement from the Republican chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce, denouncing the department’s apparent lack of a timetable for imposing the next round of sanctions.

    Add Royce’s reaction to the draft bills that were simmering before the midterms recess, unease over the potential for another meeting between US President Donald J. Trump and Russian...

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  • US Sanctions: Using a Coercive and Economic Tool Effectively

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    In recent years, US economic and financial sanctions have become favored tools of US power. The centrality of the US financial system and the ubiquity of the US dollar in the global financial marketplace make sanctions a powerful tool to have on hand when confronting foreign policy challenges. The great danger is, however, that sanctions become a substitute for actual policy, rather than merely a tool of foreign policy. In “US Sanctions: Using a Coercive Economic and Financial Tool Effectively” authors David Mortlock and Brian O’Toole, who are both senior fellows at the Atlantic...

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  • A Look at the Implications of Reimposed US Sanctions on Iran

    US President Donald J. Trump’s administration will reimpose sanctions on Iran’s central bank, oil sales, and shipping companies on November 5. These sanctions, the last of those the US lifted in 2016 as a consequence of the Iran nuclear deal, are likely to be coupled with new sanctions that are designed to achieve greater pressure than what the Obama administration imposed on Iran to enter negotiations over its nuclear program. 

    The sanctions that snap back into place on November 5 largely mirror those that the Obama administration lifted in January 2016. While fewer in numbers than those reimposed on August 6 by Executive Order (EO) 13846 issued by Trump, they are among the most powerful as they expand the primary blocking sanctions available for US designations and represent the bulk of the secondary sanctions on Iran. 

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