The lethality of sanctions on Russia

On January 25, after the 27 EU countries gathered in business, they decided to suspend the new round of sanctions against Russia. The Russian side believes that this shows that Brussels (where the EU headquarters is located) realizes that sanctions are not harmful to Russia.

The EU raised sanctions against Russia this time because the Russian authorities arrested 44-year-old well-known opposition figure Navalny. In August 2020, Navalny was poisoned and unconscious, and was transferred to Germany for emergency treatment. Germany claimed to have tested the nerve agent “Novijok” in his body. Western public opinion believes this was a murder, and pointed the finger at the Kremlin. After more than 4 months of treatment, Navalny recovered and returned to Russia. But as soon as he returned to Russia, he was detained for 30 days on suspicion of “mass fraud.”

Navalny took full advantage of this incident. He broadcasted the whole process of returning to China and the scene of his arrest. He announced that he would convene a protest on the same day. Two days later, he released a video exposing Putin’s secret mansion, which caused great repercussions in Russia. There were demonstrations in Moscow, St. Petersburg and dozens of other cities, and thousands of people were arrested. But the demonstrators have expressed their determination to continue the demonstration and make it a regular action on the weekend.

The European Parliament opposes the Russian government’s arrest of well-known opposition figures and makes three recommendations on sanctions against Russia: personal sanctions against officials related to the arrests; wealthy and high-ranking officials with close ties to Putin are not welcome to enter the EU; stop the construction of ” Beixi No. 2 Gas Pipeline Project.

But the EU is “difficult to adjust.” The three Baltic countries, Poland and other countries are habitually wary of Russia, and have a deeper perception of the threat to Russia, and they want tough sanctions; Western European countries that have economic cooperation with Russia and export more to Russia want to selectively “precise sanctions”; this Germany was even more unwilling to accept the proposal to stop the construction of the “Beixi No. 2” gas pipeline project.

Therefore, the European Union finally said to wait a while to see if Navalny will be free and the arrested demonstrators will be released.

In fact, even if the EU countries can reach an agreement to impose strong sanctions on Russia, the effect or lethality of the sanctions is still a question mark.

Due to the annexation of Crimea, involvement in the civil unrest in Ukraine, suspected of interfering in the 2016 US election, suspected of poisoning and killing former Russian agents in exile in the UK, Russia has been subject to rounds of sanctions by the United States and Europe since 2014. The attitude of the Russian authorities of course is to shrug their shoulders, saying that they have not suffered any harm. Even Western countries that impose sanctions are also quite puzzled about the question of whether the sanctions have changed Putin’s behavior.

Some experts in the United States believe that from 2014 to 2016, the Russian economy did indeed experience a sharp decline, but this was mainly due to the sharp drop in oil prices in the international market, not a manifestation of the power of Western sanctions. According to a statistics from the International Monetary Fund, Western sanctions have caused Russia’s economic output to drop by 1 to 1.5 percentage points, which is not “lethal”. There are also research institutions, such as the Congressional Research Office of the United States (an agency that analyzes congressional policies and provides recommendations). Taking into account the impact on the West’s own economy, it deliberately “precisely hit” some senior officials, not ordinary Russian consumers.

Are precise sanctions effective? Westerners are also divided into two factions. One faction thinks no, because over the years, Russia has not seen any signs of surrender in any area; the other faction thinks that if there are not so many sanctions, Putin’s decision may be “more aggressive”, and the situation facing the West Would be worse.

For this hypothesis, it is neither possible to prove nor to refute. It can only be said that for a country like Russia, the destructive power of sanctions is not necessarily that great.