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The sanctions come as travel bans and asset freezes aimed at President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle failed to force the country to meet an ultimatum to end support for separatists in two mainly Russian-speaking regions in eastern Ukraine.

Russia and Ukraine blamed each other for the downing of a Malaysia Airlines jet yesterday that killed all 298 people on board in an incident that may prove to be a turning point in the five-month conflict between their countries. The U.S. said this week that Russia is supplying the rebels with weapons.

-- Source

I find the bold sentence ungrammatical. The sanctions seems to act as the subject for both come and failed here.

The only way for the sentence to be grammatical could be to regard asset freezes as the subject for failed, but obviously it won't work semantically. The sanctions include travel bans and asset freezes.

I would think it should be "the sanctions coming as travel bans and asset freezes aimed at President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle failed to force the country to..."

Please help me parse it.

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1  
The whole sentence can be reduced to "The sanctions come". The subject of failed is bans and freezes. –  Damkerng T. Jul 18 at 15:02
    
Suppose the sanctions had no economic qualities, would the sentence be contextually regarded as wrong? @DamkerngT. –  Kinzle B Jul 18 at 15:11
    
In my opinion, that sentence, though a bit lengthy, reads fine. To me sanction is some sort of an action, so the sentence will still read fine for me even when we replace that sanctions with a meeting, an announcement, a decision, and so on. –  Damkerng T. Jul 18 at 15:28
    
I'm good, but apparently you are better than me. Thx! @DamkerngT. This week I met with a CEO from your country. :-) –  Kinzle B Jul 18 at 15:28
    
Have a nice and successful meeting! –  Damkerng T. Jul 18 at 15:41

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The main clause of the sentence is

The sanctions come.

Everything else in this sentence is a single long subordinate as clause expressing the occasion for the ‘coming’ of the sanctions—when and why they came.

The subject of this subordinate clause is

Travel bans and asset freezes aimed at President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle ...

  • The last part of that, aimed at President Vladimir Putin's inner circle, is a participle phrase modifying Travel bans and asset freezes. You may understand it as which were aimed at ..., and indeed many linguists would parse it as a relative clause ‘reduced’ by ‘Whiz-deletion’—deleting the [Wh- word + BE form].

These bans and freezes are, as you say, sanctions. However, they are not the sanctions which are the subject of the main clause—those are new sanctions, severe constraints on lending to Russian financial institutions and energy companies. The sanctions in the subordinate clause are earlier sanctions, whose result is expressed in the predicate of the subordinate clause:

... failed to force the country to meet an ultimatum to end support for separatists in two mainly Russian-speaking regions in eastern Ukraine.

In summary:

The (new) sanctions come as earlier sanctions failed to achieve the desired result.

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1  
Yes, that's an attributive participle phrase. I remember my high school exams were stuffed full of questions on that. Teachers in China are always obssessed with those tricky usages, which I think go far beyond good learning. That's why I have been asking lots of searching questions. :-) –  Kinzle B Jul 18 at 15:38
    
@ZhanlongZheng I think I have to disagree with "far beyond good learning", at least if you are teaching students who will be called on to read a lot of formal prose. Participle phrases like this are very common there. –  StoneyB Jul 18 at 16:00
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Sorry, I really miswrote that. It should've been 'against'. I had intended to mean that was not a good way of learning English. I'm not a teacher(see my info), but I was made into a cookie-cutter mold by my teachers in China. Thus, I feel compelled to ask searching questions than are necessary. That's it. @StoneyB –  Kinzle B Jul 18 at 16:08
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Well, whatever you don't teach is what your students will run into! ... Searching questions are the reason I'm here--they're driving me deeper into the grammar than I ever expected to have to go, but it's fun. –  StoneyB Jul 18 at 16:34
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I feel fun too. And I don't think lots of people are fond of it. Even some of professors in my university couldn't go that deep even though they do have a really impressive command of English. But they have their own talent like arts, speeches, etc. @Stoney –  Kinzle B Jul 18 at 16:47
  • The sanctions come into force (now)

Why do they come into force? On what backdrop? In what kind of situation?

  • They come into force because earlier measures failed to force Russia to end support for separatists

What kind of measures?

  • Travel bans and asset freezes aimed at President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle

Travel bans and assets freezes were the first wave of sanctions. The article speaks about the second wave of sanctions, striking against not individuals but whole companies.

Here, the word as is used in the sense of while, so the words

The sanctions come as travel bans and asset freezes

do not mean

The sanctions comprise travel bans and asset freezes

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2  
I see, but I still feel it's kind of bad-writing. I wonder if a native speaker would misunderstand that like I did. –  Kinzle B Jul 18 at 15:05
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I guess this is 'journalist style' writing, with sentences over-burdened with meaning. I think a native speaker is prepared to parse such condensed, compressed sentenses. –  CopperKettle Jul 18 at 15:07
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As a native speaker I do have to say that I had to read that sentence twice to fully parse it. –  Jason C Jul 18 at 15:32
1  
That's reassuring. :-) @JasonC –  Kinzle B Jul 18 at 15:40

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