Why Sanctioning Russia Will Fail

The U.S. and the U.K. have taken Russia out of global financial systems in response to their brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Germany has halted construction on the Nord Stream 2 natural-gas pipeline, and it is discussing ways to beef up its military. Italy and France seize yachts, and other assets from Russian citizens. This is because they believe that the Russians are kleptocrats benefiting from an outlaw government. A bill is being considered by the U.S. Congress that would allow Russia to be seized in America for more than $5 million, and the money used to help Ukraine. 

A number of Russian private firms have also decided to withdraw from Russia. Apple Pay, Google Pay and others have stopped using Moscow’s public transportation system. Russian filmmakers who have ties to government agencies were disinvited. Russian cats are prohibited from competing in international competitions by the International Cat Federation.

While such actions may be understandable given unjustifiable aggression they will not work in Russia’s favor. History is a guide to the answer. Please enter no. These will not only be harmful to Russia’s long-suffering population, but they could also be used as a justification by Putin for even worse behavior.

Sanctions have historically been used to motivate countries, particularly authoritarian ones. U.S. economic sanctions against imperial Japan prior to World War II were considered an act of war. They encouraged more oppression at home and increased foreign expansion. According to a Government Accountability Office (October 2019) report, sanctions have often unintended consequences. These include “negative impacts on public health or human rights.”

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The desired results of regime change or liberalization have not been achieved by sanctions against Cuba, Iran and Venezuela. Instead, they have served to make excuses for the failures of economic and police state policies.

Johns Hopkins economist Johns Hopkins says sanctions are not effective because almost always there is a workaround Steve Hanke. This is especially so in this case because China and India are largely abstaining form the Western response.

What good is it to punish citizens living in dictatorial regimes for crimes committed by their leaders? Putin’s insaneness has a daily effect on every Russian, including thousands who have been jailed because of their protests.

It is more acceptable for private companies to withdraw from Russia voluntary than the government-mandated sanctions. However, it is not known what these actions accomplish beyond inflaming jingoism or punishing innocent citizens. 

Putin is unlikely to retreat from a position of support if it’s politically impossible. Instead of doubling down sanctions and promising more draconian measures to the world, the Biden administration needs to be creating “off ramps”, or methods to deescalate conflict. This could include giving Putin a face-saving move to withdraw from the situation or agreeing to a deal that will give maximum safety and peace to Ukraine as well as stability and security for Europe. 

There is likely to be no one-size fits all solution. However, America’s past experience over the last 20 years shows us that foreign policy does not involve a victory of good over evil. It isn’t about idealism winning over reality. It’s about making the world a better place—not a perfect place.

Photo Credits: Bai Xueqi Xinhua News Agency/Newscom; Ronen Tivony/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Richard B. Levine/Newscom; Celestino Arce/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom; Dominika Zarzycka/Sipa USA/Newscom; Alexander Sayganov / SOPA Images/Newscom; Dmitry Feoktistov/TASS/Sipa USA/Newscom; Aleksandr Podgorchuk/Kommersant Photo / Polaris/Newscom; Dmitry Azarov/Kommersant Photo / Polaris/Newscom; Daniel Ceng Shou-Yi/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom; Abaca Press/Yaghobzadeh Alfred/Abaca/Sipa US/Newscom; Abaca Press/Madiyevskyy Vyacheslav/Ukrinform/Newscom; Madiyevskyy Vyacheslav/Ukrinform/Newscom; Anton Belitsky/ZUMA Press/Newscom; zumaamericaseleven208605; Alexander Miridonov/Kommersant Photo / Polaris/Newscom; Eneas De Troya, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Alexei Druzhinin/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom

Music by Tomas Novoa, “Raises”.

Nick Gillespie narrates and wrote the story. Regan Taylor did the editing.