Staunton, January 24 – Just as a labor union has the greatest power not when its workers walk off the job but when they threaten to do so if their demands are not met and after they return to work if their companies don’t want a new strike, so too Yevgeny Ikhlov says, sanctions work in much the same way.
“The threat of sanctions,” the Russian commentator says, often serves as a restraining influence; but once the sanctions are imposed, their target has little choice, if it is to save face to adapt rather than make concessions, to instead try to live with the sanctions regime or even turn it against those who impose it (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5A6753B9583F2).
Similarly, Ikhlov continues, after the sanctions are lifted, as all sanctions are eventually, they may serve as a constraint again if their target decides that it is the better part of wisdom not to act in ways that will bring the imposition of sanctions again. While they are in force, however, they often do not have the same degree of efficacy.
That reality, he suggests, helps to explain why many radical critics of Vladimir Putin have been wrong in the past and why the West in its sanctions policy has sometimes got it right and sometimes not. And further it explains why sanctions imposed at one time may have a very different set of consequences than those imposed at another.
“We all remember how the radical critics of Putinism grumbled in March 2014 about the laughable character of the targeted Obama sanctions over Crimea,” Ikhlov says. At the same time, however, the same people and others, were predicting the immediate collapse of the regime if sectoral sanctions were to be introduced.
Had sectoral sanctions been introduced in April rather than in July as they were, he continues, Moscow would have responded by stepping up its aggression in Ukraine and accepting the referenda in the LNR and DNR on the independence of those two Moscow-controlled areas.
“Then (and now),” Ikhlov continues, “the liberal opposition supported targeted sanctions but spoke against sectoral ones” lest it turn the middle class into supporters of the regime. But once sectoral sanctions were introduced after the failure to break out of the Donbass, they produced a sense of despair.
Aleksey Ulyukayev, then economic development, declared in 2016 that the sanctions were going to lead to a quarter of a century of stagnation. But a few months later he was arrested. Now, again with new sanctions ahead, Anatoly Chubais, Ulyukayev’s teacher, suggested at the Gaidar Forum that disaster was ahead.
To avoid that “and in the name of new reforms,” Chubais “proposed a union between right liberals and civilized Russian nationalists, almost accidentally repeating the similar meaning of Milyukov and Purishkevich against the Palace in mid-November 1916.” But it was the prospect of new sanctions rather than existing ones that pushed him in that direction.
When Moscow does finally change course because of its own interests, the West will lift sanctions and seek to show Russians how much they will be benefitting by that action. And the threat of sanctions now in the same way sends a message to those around Putin that they will have it so much better when he is gone or at least is forced to change course.
There is one bitter aftertaste in this case, however, Ikhlov says. “The Wesst isn’t going to be satisfied by Moscow’s agreeing to become its junior partner and part of the free world.” In order to guarantee that there will not be any “repetition of Putin’s revanchism,” it will insist on certain elements of “foreign rule” to ensure “the triumph of federalism and democracy.”