Opinion: The Complexity of Sanctions Against Russia

  • March 26, 2022

Ever since the beginning of Russia’s war on Ukraine, western nations have imposed extreme sanctions towards the country. Though the sanctions are meant to pressure Russia to stop this inhumane war, the complexity of sanctions makes it hard to deliver results in the long run.

Russia is a nation driven by power. According to an opinion column by Eileen O’Connor in the New York Times, the sanctions that America is imposing on Oligarchs will not change Vladimir Putin’s mind, because unlike America, the industry has no say over the Russian government. Ms. O’Connor, who was the Moscow bureau chief for CNN in 1996, once asked former deputy prime minister Anatoly Chubais: What is more important to Russians, power, or money? To this, Mr. Chubais responded – “If you have to ask, you don’t understand Russia”. The answer was power. In fact, the industry, to exist, must satisfy Mr. Putin’s thirst for power. Hence, the economic sanctions being imposed will not be of much use unless we are able to threaten the Russian government’s power at a global level.

One side of the argument in favor of sanctions is that by banning oil and gas imports from Russia, we will threaten its status at the global level. However, I disagree with this means. A while back, I saw an interview of former president Jimmy Carter that has distinctly stood in my memory. Mr. Carter said that sanctions imposed against autocratic nations do not cause harm to the leaders. It trickles down to the people. And as we can see, our sanctions are not changing Mr. Putin’s mind. Rather, the Russian people are bearing the consequences. So, it all comes down to how much sanctions we must impose so that the Russians destroy Vladimir Putin. But is the cost of suffering by the Russian people worth the cause?

Also, right now, Americans at large favor the sanctions. But we have a domestic crisis of our own, which is inflation. In February, inflation hit 7.9%. And with Ukraine and Russia not exporting oil, we may see rise in gas prices. How long would we be able to sustain such high prices? I personally feel that if oil prices were to rise in the next few months, we will lose popular support favoring the sanctions.

Finally, to cause serious damage to Russia, America must convince China, India, and other developing nations to impose sanctions. But will they be able to? Could they afford sanctions against Russia? I am not sure about China, but I do know that India, and other smaller nations that rely heavily on oil and wheat would not be able to sustain sanctions. According to Reuters, Egypt imports about 30 to 50% of its wheat from Russia-Ukraine. Would these nations be able to feed their population? I understand that because of war, the exports are already impacted. But wouldn’t sanctions make things worse?

I think we must re-evaluate our strategy towards Russia. We must do some serious cost-benefit analysis. Maybe, we can use the opportunity cost of the sanctions to provide refuge to Ukrainian population, and support NATO members better. It is a common belief that Russia invaded Ukraine because Vladimir Putin feared that Ukraine might join the NATO. But had NATO not existed, many former Soviet Union nations could have been invaded by Russia. Maybe we could provide more to the NATO and convince non-NATO nations to join. We can also take Ukrainians as refuge. The primary goal should be protecting Ukrainian lives. Ukraine is not a piece of land; it is a nation of Ukrainians.

Image Courtesy: Washington Post