The Sanction Future of Russia

Most of the sanctions imposed on Russia will not be lifted even in case of a ceasefire in Ukraine and reaching any agreement. The point of no return to "pre-February normality" was achieved, so there is a need to focus on creating a new future, where sanctions will be a constant variable.

Any conflict sooner or later ends in peace and some people hope for a return of "normality". Such logic seems to be simple: at some point the parties will cease fire and sit down at the negotiating table. Following this logic, the end of hostilities would lead to a gradual reduction of sanctions pressure, and Russian business would be able to return to working with Western partners. According to Ivan Timofeev, Program Director of the Valdai International Discussion Club, the future doesn't seem to be so bright. 

There are several reasons why the sanctions will not be lifted. 

Reason one

The complexity of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, it might become a long-term conflict. There may be pauses in active hostilities. The parties may conclude temporary truces. However, such truces are unlikely to remove the political contradictions that gave rise to the conflict. Currently, there are no parameters of a political compromise that would suit all parties. Even if an agreement between Moscow and Kiev is reached, its sustainability and feasibility are not guaranteed. Relations between Russia and Ukraine risk becoming one of the long-term conflicts similar to the relations between India and Pakistan, North and South Korea. The complexity and long-term nature of the conflict are guaranteed by Western sanctions for the long period of time.

Reason two

The stable character of relations between Russia and the West. Ukrainian conflict is just a part of Euroatlantic security architecture. There is an unstable system of asymmetric bipolarity in Europe, where Russian and NATO security is unlikely to be indivisible. Russia is not able to crush the West, without receiving an unacceptable damage, the same it true for the West. 

For Russia, the strategy of asymmetric balancing of Western superiority remains optimal. It is possible that a radical revision of Ukrainian territory, i.e. alienation of its Eastern and Southern parts, will become a part of such course. But this measure will not lead to solution of the sanctions problem.

Reason three

Institutional features of the sanctions policy. Experience shows that sanctions are relatively easy to impose, but very difficult to lift. Thus, a whole "web of laws" has been formed in the United States regarding Iran, which significantly limits the administration's ability to waive sanctions. Even if sanctions are not enshrined in law, their cancellation or mitigation still requires political capital, which not every politician is willing to spend. In the US, such steps will cause criticism or even opposition in Congress, and in the EU – disagreements of member states.

Of course, certain restrictions are lifted in case if it suits the national interests of the initiators of sanctions. The example of sanction pressure on Belarus is a good example, but anyway legal mechanisms of sanctions remain and can be used any time.

Reason four

Rapid reversibility of sanctions. Their cancellation is often accompanied by political demands, the implementation of which is a complex process. For example, the Iranian nuclear deal required several years of complex negotiations and significant technological solutions. At the same time a repeated imposition of sanctions is much faster process. There is an asymmetry in the performance of obligations. The fulfillment of the initiators' demands requires significant changes, whereas the return of sanctions requires only a political decision.

Rapid cancellation of sanctions also causes the distrust of target countries. It is easier for them to continue living under sanctions than to make heavy concessions with the risk of getting new sanctions. Historical experience shows that the initiators of sanctions tend to play the game of "finishing off" the opponent. After the concessions, new, more radical political demands and threats of new sanctions appear. 

Reason five

The ability to adapt. Without any doubt, Russia will suffer enormous damage from the imposed restrictive measures. However, the possibilities of its adaptation to the sanctions regime remain high.

Firstly, Russia has chance to partially compensate falling supplies from abroad by its own industry, although this will require political will and concentration of resources.

Secondly, there is an access to non-werstern markets as well as to the alternative sources of goods, services and tachnologies. The key condition to solve this task is creation of reliable financial transactions channels indepent from US dollar, euro and Western financial institures. This task is possible to be solved technically and politically, but it will require time and political will. 

These reasons make the prospect of lifting or significantly reducing the sanctions pressure on Russia extremely unlikely. The United States, the EU and other initiators have already imposed the most severe restrictions on Moscow. But the limit of sanctions is not over yet. However, this is not the end of Russian economy, it has just created the new conditions, where Russia has to adapt and operate ti dubf bew opportunities to develop and grow. 

Source: Valdai discussion club

Our partners