Since Russia invaded Ukraine last February the West has ramped up sanctions against Russia to an unprecedented level. Both Russia and the West are feeling the pain, but are the measures having the desired effect?
Unquestionably, say sanctions supporters. A report by Yale University shows that the Russian economy has been crippled by the new sanctions and is heading for oblivion. With the loss of EU export markets, the withdrawal of over 1,000 foreign firms, and the tit for tat cut-off of gas exports, Putin is under serious pressure. And now that he is losing ground on the battlefield and ordering a partial mobilisation of Russian citizens to support the war, it looks as though sanctions are working. Soon Putin simply won’t be able to afford to continue the war – let alone contemplate attacking other vulnerable countries along Russia’s border. And without access to the advanced Western technology Russia needs for its vital industries, the regime itself may be unable to survive.
Such thinking is hopelessly misguided, argue the sanctions sceptics. No one is doubting that sanctions are hurting the Russian economy, they say, but where’s the evidence that they are making Putin change course? What’s helping the Ukrainians turn things around isn’t the economic squeeze on Russia, it’s military aid from the West. Meanwhile, due to the shortage of gas, Europe has been plunged into the worst cost of living crisis in decades, with energy bills in Britain set to triple and inflation rampant. Sanctions may give us the sense that we are doing something about the war in Ukraine but not only are they unlikely to help that country, they are also a spectacular own goal.
Who’s right and who’s wrong?