In exactly one week, Russia will be forced to make a major decision: leave the Ukraine alone or continue its abrasive intervention against the neighboring state. If Russia chooses the former option, it will be able to successfully avoid backlash from the European Union. However, if it chooses the latter option, it will be hit with major economic sanctions.
While it is rumored that these economic sanctions could effectively cripple the Russian economy, is there any truth to this theory? History has certainly proved that sanctions are by no means a guaranteed way to deter regimes from committing acts that other countries disagree with, and many professionals have even gone as far as to argue that sanctions have little to no effect on governments.
A prime example of this would be the sanctions that the United States has previously placed on Syria and Cuba. Both sets of sanctions were imposed with the intention of stopping each country’s regime in its tracks, and both sets of sanctions ultimately failed. The government officials remained in power, and they continued committing the atrocities that America was so against. In the end, what was achieved?
Russia is Not the Party That Ultimately Suffers
States enforce sanctions against other states in order to discourage governments from committing certain actions without having to utilize violence or force. Ideally, the government that is being faced with the sanctions is supposed to favor economic prosperity in its state, rather than the continuation of whatever ‘crimes’ it may be executing. Unfortunately, things very rarely play out like this.
In the specific instance of Russia and the EU, there are many parties who run the risk of being economically hurt. For instance, Russia serves as the EU’s third largest trading partner, which is not something to be scoffed at. Many European countries depend on Russia as a major importer and exporter, and without Russia’s contributions, these states may wind up being severely detrimentally affected by these economic barriers.
The potential for other EU countries to be economically hurt is shown in how timid many of them are in regards to enforcing stricter sanctions against Russia. They are aware of the possible effects that they may be hit with, and they are unwilling to put themselves too much on the line.
Yet, if the EU is unwilling to enforce extreme sanctions against Russia, the Russian government may never be affected at all. Local economies and the working class certainly will be, but there is a distinct power distance between those who contribute to the economy and those who run the state. If the sanctions are too weak to affect the individuals responsible for making Russia’s foreign policy decisions, they are pointless. Instead of hitting the state where it hurts, these sanctions will be harming small, middle class families that have no control over Russian policy.
However, it can be assumed that countries in the EU will never be willing to put their economies at a high enough risk for the sanctions to be truly effective. While this is perfectly understandable, and arguably should be encouraged, it renders these economic barriers useless. At most, other countries’ economies will be harmed, as well as the average Russian worker who has little to no influence on their country’s foreign policies.
Looking to Russia as an Example
Some individuals may make the counterargument that Russia is currently suffering from a period of economic stagnation and inflation. Food prices are skyrocketing at alarming levels and the country’s currency is inflating faster than economists ever dreamed of being possible. In many ways, this can be interpreted as the sanctions against Russia doing their jobs.
With that being said, it is important that we determine and evaluate the true cause of Russia’s economic downturn. Recently, Russia placed food embargos against most western countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, and a majority of the EU. Ever since this decision was implemented, food prices have drastically increased, as many Russian cities heavily depend on these imports and are unable to produce their own products due to their harsh climates.
Russia’s implementation of these economic barriers should serve as a warning for the EU. When the roles are reversed, and the EU becomes the party that is enforcing sanctions against the eastern European country, who is to say that the outcomes will wind up being any different? More likely than not, innocent EU and Russian citizens will feel the blow, rather than the powerful Russian officials who are the true target.
Like most international conflicts, this situation is by no means black and white. There is no apparent solution, and all potential answers will wind up angering at least one party. Yet, at the same token, it is clear that the negative effects of economic sanctions have the potential to wind up being much stronger than whatever positive outcomes they may bring. Before the EU implements anymore trade barriers, it should first take the time to consider how its own states could be burned in the process.
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