By Paul Goble
Sanctions have not worked as intended and should not be increased, Vladislav Inozemtsev says. They did express Western outrage at Kremlin actions, but there are other, more difficult, but far more effective means of actually containing Moscow actions of the kind the West most wants to.
According to the Russian economist, the Kremlin today has failed first of all to achieve the geopolitical goals its earlier aggressive actions sought and is, as its handling of the Belarusian events suggest, increasingly cautious about using any military force beyond its borders (ridl.io/ru/budushhee-antikremlevskih-sankcij/).
“Over the past several years,” Inozemtsev says, Russia’s “internal political situation has become much less stable.” The destruction of the economy to enrich Putin’s cronies seriously “reduces the Kremlin’s freedom of action. And if there is no new act of aggression, new sanctions make less sense and are less likely to be adopted.
Second, the sanctions the West has imposed so far have done less to wreck the Russian economy than the Kremlin itself has. The West has been unwilling to impose an energy embargo on Russia because it benefits from Russian flows. And its limited “personal” sanctions have done little to divide the elite and much to get those sanctioned to tie themselves more closely to Putin.
Even though Russia fully qualifies as a support of terrorism, no one in the West is prepared to impose the same kind of sanctions on it that the West has imposed on other such states, Inozemtsev continues.
And third, because the Kremlin’s problems are mainly internal, it is likely to focus on “suppressing its own opposition.” But unless such actions spill over into the West itself, recent cases, as with the Saudi assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, suggest that Western countries will not respond especially harshly.
Consequently, the Russian economist says, three things suggest that regardless of the outcome of the American election, US sanctions policy will not change much and may even fade, with at least some officials beginning to think about other and potentially far more effective but inherently more difficult ways to limit the Kremlin.
First and most obviously, the US and other Western countries will be focusing on overcoming the pandemic and its economic consequences. They won’t be focusing on Russia unless Moscow does something that they feel they have to respond to. Thus, there may not be a change in sanctions one way or the other.
Second, because Russian corruption and Russian elites are so tightly integrated in Western countries, there will be significant resistance from Western business elites to any moves that might threaten their own financial well-being. That is already a factor but it is likely to grow in importance.
And third, Inozemtsev argues, a Biden administration and perhaps even a second Trump one won’t want to have any new sanctions “cause tensions between the US and Europe” as they have over the last several years.
The problem with sanctions is that they can be effective enough only if the political elite of a country hesitates in choosing a course, or if the population exerts serious pressure on the authorities, which may grow if sanctions are introduced.” That is not the case in the Russian Federation today.
What that means, Inozemtsev says, repeating an argument he has made over the last five years, is that “the optimal strategy for the West is a strategy aimed at “surviving” the Putin regime. Russia today is in decline … [its] economy, due to its increasingly primitive nature, is difficult to “blow to shreds” but even more difficult to “restart.”
On the one hand, the West should try to achieve smaller agreements with the Kremlin where it can; and on the other, it needs to develop a more comprehensive approach to dealing with the Kremlin, one that would involve “limiting the political activity of parties and groups which receive direct and indirect funding from Moscow.”
And further, Western countries should follow Cyprus and restrict residence permits and long-term visas issued to Russians and Western intelligence agencies should focus on preventing Russian intelligence operatives from entering their countries “under ever-changing names” to do various kinds of mischief.”
If the West moves in that direction, it will inflict far more pain on the Kremlin “than any sanctions” and have the additional virtue of not harming ordinary Russian citizens and allowing the Kremlin to exploit anti-Western sentiment. Such steps are harder to implement, but they are far more valuable than the posturing about sanctions.