The West can strenghten the sanctions, but what for? — Analysis

By Ivan Timofeev, Valdai Club Programme Director & one of Russia’s leading foreign policy experts.

It’s been over a month since a tsunami of Western sanctions hit Russia. This is an extraordinary characteristic. All industries and key sectors are under threat. Russia’s reserve assets abroad have been frozen. Exports of technology and industrial goods have had to be subjected to severe control. It was all accomplished in an extremely short amount of time. Something like that had occurred in Russia’s history only once before – after the 1917 revolution. Although the Iron Curtain slowly began to fall during Cold War II, it was being rebuilt now.  

A second peculiarity is how zealous the West business community follows through with the sanctions. They often run ahead of politicians. Companies tried to stay away from politics before, and now corporations boycott even those sectors that haven’t been officially sanctioned – from the fast-food industry and furniture retail to denying access to academic publications abroad. These boycotts have become the norm. “cancel Russia”When Russian culture is being restricted. The same applies to the confiscation of Russian assets overseas without legal proceedings.

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The sanctions will undoubtedly cause significant economic losses for Russia. Disrupted trade and transport networks and the West’s financial and technological blockade will lead to high inflation, unemployment, failing labor productivity, the weakened technological base and a struggling economy as a whole. The fact that Russian commodities are gradually being withdrawn from the Western markets will make this a more severe and lasting effect.

The sanctions, however, will have little to no impact on Russia’s policy. Moscow simply doesn’t believe that any concessions in Ukraine or elsewhere will result in the West rolling back the sanctions. Russia sounds very pessimistic when it comes to sanctions. However, Russia recognizes that they are here for a reason. It is possible to expect the West to ease some restrictions to reduce the impact on their country. But that’s the extent of it. History has shown that significant nations don’t always change course when they are subjected to limitations.

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The sanctions are unlikely to encourage Russians living in Russia to go on the streets. “overthrow the regime.” Yes, it is true that the hit on the economy forces the middle class into poverty, while the poor find themselves below the poverty line. However, society will mainly blame the West and not its government. This means the anti-Western sentiment will only be fueled by the sanctions. This is reinforced by the whole cancel culture component. People will not accept the situation where they are being humiliated for simply being Russian – no matter how they feel about the special operation.

Do we know the true extent of anti Russian sanctions? Most likely not. Although technically they can be expanded, the West should be careful considering its current losses. However, there’s a bigger issue to think about. The main casualties of the conflict are regular Ukrainians and Russians. Any military confrontation must be settled and resolved – the lives and future of these people are more important than any sanctions, ambitions, or prestige. It is impossible to predict how long hostilities can continue before both sides reach an agreement. Ideal is a peace agreement that can solve both the security and political problems in each country.

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