Economic sanctions are ‘little chance’ of deterring Putin

The unprecedented economic sanctions imposed by the West against Russia have “little chance” of dissuading Vladimir Putin from striking Ukraine, affirms in an interview with AFP researcher Gary Hufbauer, who has studied the effectiveness of these measures for a century.

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Since the beginning of the 20th century, “sanctions have been effective in less than a third of conflicts”, notes this researcher at the think tank Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) in Washington, author of the book Economic Sanctions Reconsidered.

The main lesson drawn from this historical analysis of the effect of economic sanctions on a hundred conflicts is that “most of the countries in which sanctions have been effective have been small countries, fragile states, far from the power of Russia,” he says.

Punitive measures have, for example, worked in countries such as Panama, Peru, Equatorial Guinea or Sierra Leone, he says. Concerning larger states, they were effective for South Africa in the context of the fight against apartheid from the 1960s, or for Brazil.

But they did not bear fruit in conflicts involving larger players: for example China when North Korea invaded South Korea in the 1950s, Pakistan when the United States sanctioned the possession of nuclear weapons, or again… Russia after the invasion of Crimea, where the sanctions had admittedly been of low intensity.

With regard to China and the Korean War, which was also able to count on the support of the Soviet Union at the time, “the sanctions were harsh, but these countries did not back down”, he recalls.

“When a big country invades another country, it is very difficult to convince the leader of the aggressor state to change his mind, because it would be too great a personal setback,” he deciphers. According to him, “hitting an economy is not changing the mentality of a leader” and economic sanctions cannot most of the time change the ideology of a leader in operation.

This is particularly the case “when it comes to an autocrat”, he adds, calling Vladimir Putin an “autocrat of autocrats”.

Unlike Crimea in 2014, Russia’s current sanctions “are very significant”, acknowledges Mr. Hufbauer, this time involving central bank asset freezes, exclusions from the SWIFT interbank network as well as restrictions on exports which could permanently affect Russian growth, which is already fragile.

However, “will this make Putin deviate from his plans? There is little chance, ”says the researcher who would even consider the hypothesis of a rapid ceasefire with Kiev surprising.

“I’m not saying it’s impossible, I’m just saying that there is no comparable precedent,” says Mr. Hufbauer again.

The measures, which could worsen further in the coming days, should reduce the income of the Russian population by around 10%, he also claims, far more than the average effect of economic sanctions. in history.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov acknowledged on Monday that the sanctions taken by the West to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine were “heavy” and “problematic”, while assuring that Russia had “the necessary capacities to compensate for the damage.

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