February 28, 2022

The New Russian Sanctions Playbook

After Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine last week, U.S. President Joe Biden made good on his threat to impose “swift and severe consequences” on Russia’s economy. His administration has enacted a set of sanctions far stronger than those deployed in 2014, after Moscow’s last incursion into Ukraine. This latest package includes sanctions on Russian banks, debt and equity restrictions on state-owned enterprises, and unprecedented multilateral export controls designed to cut Russia’s high-tech imports in half.

These sanctions, coupled with similar measures from the European Union and other U.S. allies, will accelerate Russia’s isolation from the global economy. Such moves, however, are not a sign of policy success—despite the impressive transatlantic diplomacy. On the contrary, they represent a failure to deter Putin from invading Ukraine. It is possible that the threat of sanctions failed because Putin was determined to invade regardless of the cost. It is also possible that Putin underestimated the damage that Western sanctions would cause. The 2014 measures sent Russia’s economy into a tailspin, but the country stabilized after several years.

Just because threatening sanctions failed, however, doesn’t mean the United States should abandon them altogether.

Beyond exacting a price for military aggression and signaling solidarity with Ukrainians under fire, punitive economic measures can demonstrate to Russian elites and society that Putin’s imperial fantasies have costs. Declining living standards and diminishing prospects could, in turn, weaken Putin’s domestic base of support, siphoning attention and resources away from foreign policy.

Over the long term, economic penalties can also degrade Moscow’s ability to project power abroad. With Russia’s army already deployed across Ukraine—and little prospect for a dramatic shift in Russian foreign policy while Putin is in office—sanctions are now less a tool of behavioral change than one aimed at economic and technological attrition. Their primary objective is no longer to deter Moscow from taking particular actions but to drastically alter the trade and investment links between Russia and the United States and its allies—to the latter’s geopolitical advantage.

Read the full article from Foreign Affairs.

  • Podcast
    • July 11, 2024
    What a Bunch of Malarkey!

    Emily and Geoff discuss the U.S. presidential election and what that might mean for economic security policy. They get into trade policy, what both candidates would do to comp...

    By Emily Kilcrease & Geoffrey Gertz

  • Podcast
    • July 3, 2024
    How U.S.-China Competition Upended the International Economic Order and What the United States Can Do to Fix It

    On June 26, CNAS hosted an event to discuss a new report, Disorderly Conduct: How U.S.-China Competition Upended the International Economic Order and What the United States Ca...

    By Emily Kilcrease, Geoffrey Gertz, Adam Tong & Peter Harrell

  • Reports
    • June 27, 2024
    Sanctions by the Numbers: 2023 Year in Review

    Executive Summary In 2023, the Biden administration continued to prioritize sanctions as a key tool to support U.S. national security and foreign policy objectives. The United...

    By Rowan Scarpino & Jocelyn Trainer

  • Podcast
    • June 27, 2024
    How to regulate smart, not dumb, with Alan Estevez

    This week, Under Secretary of Commerce Alan Estevez joins Derisky Business to talk tech competition with China, how Russia can still get western chips, and why all our cars mi...

    By Emily Kilcrease, Geoffrey Gertz & Alan Estevez

View All Reports View All Articles & Multimedia