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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Is Biden’s Sanctions Campaign Against Russia’s Invasion of The Ukraine Working?

Yahoo senior editor Mike Berbernes has a good update on the Biden Administration’s sanctions against Russia. Some excerpts:

When Russia invaded Ukraine last February, the United States and its Western allies swiftly put in place an unprecedentedly harsh series of sanctions designed to isolate the Russian economy from the rest of the world and undercut Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ability to fund his war effort.

At the time, President Biden said the sanctions — which targeted everything from Russia’s fossil fuel industry to its financial sector and individuals with ties to the Kremlin — would “impose severe costs” on the Russian economy. At first, that appeared to be happening. Russia’s currency, the ruble, abruptly dropped in value, citizens swamped banks looking to withdraw cash and hundreds of international companies ended their operations in the country. Forecasts predicted that Russia’s economy would contract dramatically in the intervening months, with some economists saying it would collapse entirely.

But a year later, Russia is in much stronger shape than many had predicted. The ruble has regained its value. Russia’s oil exports, the lifeblood of its economy, have stayed steady as countries like China, India and Turkey have bought up supplies that used to go to Europe. The standard of living for everyday Russians hasn’t changed. Most important, Putin’s war machine has the funding to continue its assault on Ukraine.

Berbernes notes, however, that “Russia’s surprising ability to endure the West’s economic assault during the past year has fueled debate over whether the sanctions — which have caused a huge disruption to global markets, especially energy — are working at all.”  Further,

Optimists say disappointment about the impact of sanctions largely comes from misconceptions about what they’re designed to do. They argue that no level of economic punishment was ever going to win the war or lead to Putin’s being ousted from power. The real goal, many say, is to slowly chip away at Russia’s economic stability until it becomes increasingly difficult to fund the war and Russian citizens gradually start to feel the costs of the conflict.”

Many experts see signs that Russia is quickly exhausting the emergency measures it used to keep itself afloat, which could lead to a serious decline over the next year. Others say the sanctions have dramatically undercut Russia’s long-term economic prospects, which will steadily decrease Putin’s power on the global stage in the coming years and decades.

But pessimists fear that Russia is well positioned to weather the sanctions for as long as it needs, thanks to its powerful trading partners, its ability to evade lax enforcement and the West’s reluctance to risk creating a spike in energy prices by aggressively targeting Russia’s oil and gas industries. There’s also danger, some argue, that the focus on sanctions might draw attention away from the most important thing Ukraine’s allies should be doing: pouring in huge amounts of military and financial support so the war can be won on the battlefield.

Berbernes then shares perspectives of ‘optimists’ and ‘pessimists’ about the future of the sanctions success, including:

“The confusion around the effectiveness of sanctions stems from a lack of clarity about their goals. … First, Western countries are trying to send a strong signal of resolve and unity to the Kremlin. Second, sanctioning states aim to degrade Russia’s ability to wage war. Third, Western democracies are betting that sanctions will slowly asphyxiate the Russian economy and in particular the country’s energy sector. When judged on the basis of these criteria, sanctions are clearly working.” — Agathe Demarais, Foreign Policy.


“​​The most significant roadblock to sanctions being effective is the failure of Western governments to use their full diplomatic leverage to pressure many governments to cease trading with Russia or allow their banks and corporations to continue doing business in Russia. This failure continues to make life harder for Ukrainians as the war goes on.” — Frank Vogl, Inkstick

Putin may be betting on Biden losing the presidency next year, in which case there is a realistic chance that a Republican president will end or weaken the sanctions. Biden may be underestimating the ability of the Russian people and/or their military leaders to resist Putin’s invasion and also the importance of China and other countries support of Russia.

It’s impossible to measure the effectiveness of sanctions alone, since Zelensky and the Ukrainians are waging an amazing resistance to the Russians thus far. President Biden certainly knows that American voters don’t have the patience for indefinitely subsidizing the Ukrainian military. But Biden also has access to military, economic and political intelligence that no journalist has, and it could be that Putin is closer to collapse than we know, in which case Biden could come out of this in a stronger political position than ever.

One comment on “Is Biden’s Sanctions Campaign Against Russia’s Invasion of The Ukraine Working?

  1. Victor on

    Societies have a really short memory and political leaders are required to keep historical knowledge alive in order to repeat mistakes of the past.

    Although in many senses we are not yet at World War III, the potential is certainly there.

    Isolationism and fake nationalism from the far right and fake pacifism from the far left, leave the center alone to make the case for spending.

    Spending on making Ukraine stronger sooner after its independence would have been much cheaper than war costs.

    Biden still doesn’t have a resounding message on Ukraine other than an endless war, while at the same time he argues against providing Ukraine with the means to make actual progress in the war (because of fear of how Russia could react).

    He needs to keep the far left as quiet as possible so it doesn’t provide legitimacy to those trying to win Republican primaries by using Ukraine as a wedge issue.

    Keeping the Democratic party united should be easy.

    How long he can keep Republican establishment members of Congress is a whole other issue, specially if most Republican presidential candidates break against Ukraine.

    Russia wouldn’t be the only victor if the US diminishes its support for Ukraine.

    Biden and Democrats are failing to make the case that the actual main victor would be China, and not just because of Taiwan (most Americans won’t understand or care enough about Taiwan, they will certainly care even less about a Chinese society than they do about Ukraine).

    The argument of keeping the West as the center of global relations and norms isn’t being made and isn’t easy to explain.

    So using China as a boogey man is the best option available, even if it means relations with it will deteriorate further.


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