Do sanctions against Russia help weaken the Putin regime?
How Sanctions On Russia Hurt Putin’s Closest Allies
Experts on which of the restrictive measures taken against the Kremlin over the past 9 years have been the most effective
With the arrival of the new administration in the United States, they are talking about the policy that Joe Biden will lead towards Vladimir Putin. In 2021, the Kremlin unleashed a new round of political repression after the return of Alexei Navalny to the country: in addition to the conclusion of the opposition leader himself, about a hundred people have become involved in politically motivated criminal cases in Russia since January alone. Opponents of the Kremlin called for international pressure to respond to the repression. Sanction experts Dan Fried and Graham Robertson in an interview with the Russian Service «Voices of America» commented on the effectiveness of the restrictive measures imposed by the United States against Russia since 2012.
Khodorkovsky: «It’s time for the West to act, not reason»
They started talking about the need for new sanctions against Russia after the poisoning of Alexei Navalny. Executive Director of the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) Vladimir Ashurkov transferred to the White House the names of several dozen people involved in the poisoning and prosecution of Alexei Navalny.
Ashurkov called on Washington to expand the sanctions lists as much as possible. According to him, not only the alleged poisoners of Navalny should fall under the restrictions, but also the judge of the Khimki court, Elena Morozova, who ruled to take the politician into custody, the head of the Internal Affairs Directorate of the city of Khimki, Igor Yanchuk, who petitioned for his arrest, and several dozen other people..
Russian opposition politicians Garry Kasparov and Mikhail Khodorkovsky also called on Washington to expand sanctions..
Kasparov, in his Washington Post column, pointed out that past attempts to engage with Putin by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have ended up «the invasion of Georgia and Ukraine, support for the bloody regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, interference in the American elections, as well as a number of attempts on the Kremlin’s opponents, some of which ended in the death of people – both in Russia and abroad».
«President Biden has a chance to shape the right US policy towards Putin’s Russia», – written by Kasparov
Mikhail Khodorkovsky in an interview with Reuters said, «that it is time for the West to act, not reason», and impose personal sanctions on Russians involved in corrupt deals. In his opinion, such actions will be more effective than sanctions against «Nord Stream – 2», currently discussed in the West.
The US authorities said that the White House is now considering various measures of influence on Russia, taking into account «Russia’s egregious actions in the case of Alexei Navalny and human rights violations more broadly». Also, the new US administration is now discussing the possibility of imposing sanctions aimed at putting an end to the construction of the gas pipeline. «Nord Stream 2».
What sanctions have been introduced against Russia
Many observers take the end of 2012 as the starting point for sanctions against Russia, when American lawmakers passed the Magnitsky law, which provides for sanctions against persons involved in human rights violations. Note that the Russian politician Boris Nemtsov, who promoted the bill in the West, was killed in 2015, and his associate Vladimir Kara-Murza twice in recent years became a victim of poisoning.
The next package of sanctions was introduced after the annexation of Crimea and the subsequent military aggression by the Kremlin in southeastern Ukraine. US sanctions targeted both those responsible for the annexation and companies and individuals associated with the Russian regime, including major financial and oil companies, as well as enterprises associated with the production and import of weapons. Flights to Crimea were banned, as well as any investment in the economy of the peninsula. In total, about 300 people and about 500 companies were sanctioned..
In 2015, Russia was sanctioned for cyberattacks and attempted interference in elections in the United States. In addition to individuals and companies involved in cyberattacks, the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Main Intelligence Directorate were also sanctioned..
In 2017, the imposed restrictions were consolidated and supplemented within the framework of the law «Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions» (CAATSA).
In 2018, a new package of sanctions was introduced for the poisoning in Britain of ex-Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal. As part of the sanctions, the export from the United States of technologies and goods that can be used for the production of chemical weapons was prohibited, and any assistance from the US government, except humanitarian aid, was prohibited. The law also provides for a number of restrictions related to the sale or export of weapons to Russia..
Economists estimate that the sanctions have had a significant negative effect on the Russian economy, including consumer demand and investment, wages, and inflation, as well as the depreciation of the national currency. The imposition of sanctions coincided with a significant drop in oil prices, which also contributed to the above factors.
Dan Freed: «Biden’s administration should impose personal sanctions for prosecuting Navalny»
According to Dan Fried, the former coordinator of the US State Department’s sanctions program, it is very difficult to say with certainty which sanctions have been most effective..
«According to the Russians themselves, personal sanctions against individuals, against people from Putin’s corrupt circle who are responsible for the repression are the most effective., – says Fried in an interview with the Russian Service «Voices of America». – Whereas sectoral sanctions against the financial sector, energy or defense sectors are less effective».
However, for the Putin regime to feel the real consequences of its aggressive policy, personal sanctions alone are not enough, Fried notes..
«Now the Biden administration should be quick to impose individual sanctions on the Navalny case, preferably in coordination with the European Union. I admit that partial sanctions against the Russian national debt could also be extended, as well as new restrictions related to biological and chemical weapons, previously imposed by the Trump administration as a measure for poisoning in Salisbury», – the interlocutor argues «Voices of America».
According to the expert, an example of effective sanctions is «Magnitsky act»: «He gave people a signal that Putin is no longer able to protect them, and that complicity in the repressions he is carrying out, in the lawlessness he is organizing, and in another way I cannot describe the organization of attempts on his opponents, will have consequences.».
Dan Fried also expressed hope that the US administration will insist on the termination of the project. «Nord Stream – 2» – the main gas pipeline under construction from Russia to Germany.
«Nord Stream – 2» — it is a bad idea. It violates the integrity of the European Union gas market. Thus, Russia will deal directly with Germany, ignoring a number of Central European countries, including Poland, and this plays into the hands of the Kremlin’s plans.», – notes the interlocutor «Voices of America».
Fried stressed that the effects of the sanctions must be carefully considered. He drew attention to the fact that after Oleg Deripaska was included in the sanctions list – a spokesman for Putin’s inner circle, employees of a related aluminum company in Sweden and Ireland are at risk of job losses.
«As a result, the Trump administration had to back down and come to an agreement under which Deripaska loses control and a controlling stake in the company.», – remarked Freed. In turn, UK Rusal was removed from US sanctions.
When working on sanctions, the West also needs to try to ensure that they do not affect ordinary Russians, the expert says, stressing that it is not always possible when it comes to economic sanctions: «They affected many people, it is known».
On the other hand, the sanctions, which most clearly affected the Russians, hurt them – this is, for example, a ban on the import of food. «I remember how the Russian government destroyed good cheese from Europe, – says Freed. – Thanks to these measures, Russians are deprived of the opportunity to buy quality food. And it did to the West, and the Kremlin».
Graham Robertson: «The sanctions had almost no effect on the Kremlin’s policies»
Purpose of US sanctions – limit the damage done to society as a whole and target the elites first of all, says Graeme B. Robertson, professor of political science at the American University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill..
«It is the sanctions aimed at specific individuals close to the regime, such as Deripaska, Prigozhin, Timchenko, that are probably the most effective.», – says Robertson.
He stressed that the imposed sanctions have a long-term and short-term effect..
«The real impact on ordinary Russians in the short term has been the retaliatory sanctions imposed by Russia to rally people against the West., – expert says. –In a broader perspective, sectoral sanctions have an indirect impact on citizens. Since they affect the Russian economy, reducing both state revenues and the income of residents».
At the same time, the imposed sectoral and personal sanctions have practically not changed the policy pursued by the current Russian regime..
«Russian companies have adapted to the sanctions and have probably already developed a strategy to counter any new round of sanctions. While there is no doubt that economic growth is generally lower than it would have been without sanctions, their real impact is difficult to measure against the backdrop of a generally depressed economic environment and falling oil prices., – reasons Robertson. – At the same time, it is clear that pursuing an independent foreign policy and acting as a superpower for the Russian regime is more important than economic growth.».
Strategically, sanctions are weakening Russia by alienating Germany and Eastern Europe from dependence on Russian gas, Robertson says: «This is a relatively slow process, but in the medium term it does a lot of damage to Russia.».
«Should the Biden administration impose new sanctions? I believe that the imposition of sanctions on most or even all of the people on the list presented by Navalny’s team would be a very important political signal., – sure Graham Robertson. – There are ideas that it would be necessary to exclude from this list several allegedly friendly oligarchs like Abramovich in order to maintain contacts with the regime. I don’t think it would make sense. In turn, the expansion of sanctions would be an important signal to counter the increasingly brutal repression taking place in Russia. However, I would not expect any political miracles from the expansion of the sanctions list itself.»