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As West Slaps Another Package of Sanctions on Russia, Analyst Mulls Over Their Effectiveness

© AFP 2023 / MICHAL CIZEKPeople queue outside a branch of Russian state-owned bank Sberbank to withdraw their savings and close their accounts in Prague on February 25, 2022, before Sberbank will close all its branches in the Czech Republic later in the day.
People queue outside a branch of Russian state-owned bank Sberbank to withdraw their savings and close their accounts in Prague on February 25, 2022, before Sberbank will close all its branches in the Czech Republic later in the day.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 27.02.2022
Although Western sanctions did harm the Iranian economy, they failed to curb Tehran's nuclear drive. They also failed to result in the overthrow of the current Iranian leadership. Will the same scenario unfold in Russia?
It didn't take the West long to slap major sanctions against Russia, following its military operation in Ukraine that kicked off last Thursday.
Leading Russian politicians, including President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have been targeted, as well as several major banks and leading companies.
In addition, the West has also agreed to cut off two major Russian banks from access to the SWIFT global interbank payments system. Reports suggest that more sanctions are still underway, one of which could be the disconnection of the country from the internet.

Powerful Tool?

Dr. Raz Zimmt, a research fellow at Israel's Institute for National Security Studies, is not an expert on Russia. His career has revolved around Iran and its nuclear programme, and he knows well why such measures are applied on a state.

"Recently, sanctions have become a popular tool in the hands of the American policy makers. [This is because] the US is less inclined to use its military force. So it'd rather apply its economic and political pressure."

Over the years, the US Department of the Treasury has applied its economic pressure on a number of states including Cuba, Venezuela, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and many others.
Russia has been on that list several times. Initially it appeared there in 2009, following the death in a prison cell of a Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who exposed a corruption scandal allegedly involving his country's officials.
Then, it was because of Crimea's reunification with Russia, an act that was branded in the West as annexation, the punishment for which was economic pressure on Moscow.
More recently, it was because of an alleged poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny, who is currently imprisoned in Russia as the result of a fraud case.
How much effect did these punitive measures have on Moscow? Not much. Crimea has become an integrated part of the Russian Federation and it shows no signs of backtracking from that path. Navalny remains imprisoned.

How Effective Are Sanctions?

The West has probably learned from the past. This time around, the sanctions will be more severe and their scope is larger, but Zimmt says they won't necessarily reach their goal.

"We need to distinguish between the economic and political impact of sanctions. The former do have a tendency to leave an impact as they did with Iran's economy, especially between 2018 to 2020, when their inflation went up and there has been a dramatic decline in oil imports".

"The latter, however, are less effective, especially if they aim at unrealistic or wide goals. If the idea of the measures applied is to force a country to act against its national interests or desert its policy, it simply won't work."
In Iran, where the sanctions were meant to curb the country's atomic drive, it didn't. Despite multiple economic sanctions, imposed by the US and its Western allies, the Islamic Republic didn't give up on its strive for nuclear independence. Nor did they lead to the overthrow of the current government.
Even economically, it managed to evade some sanctions partially by finding clients in Asia, who were willing to purchase its crude despite the ban, and partially by developing its domestic industry.
Will that happen in Russia as well? In his televised speech, where he recognised the independence of the two self-proclaimed Donbass republics, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was prepared for all possible scenarios.
In past years, Russia has prepared itself for the possibility it would be cut off from the internet. It has been readying itself to replace the SWIFT system with a Chinese or a Russian equivalent. And it has been focusing on the development of ties with the East, on the accumulation of gold and foreign currencies.
Now the only thing that's left to be seen is whether it will be enough to keep the Russian economy afloat.
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