Are Economic Sanctions Useful?


The war between Russia and Ukraine did not begin last Thursday. It started years ago, when Russia first began signaling that Crimea was part of Russian territory. While the world soon forgot about those Russian signals — thanks to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s tactical skills — the United States and Western Europe did not. Instead, they continued to lure and support Ukraine with experts, weapons and advanced systems so that it would swim in the American-Western orbit, or NATO’s orbit.

The Russian president was undoubtedly aware of the situation, and he knew about America’s desire to entrench itself on Russia’s border. As the United States sought to repeat what it did in Afghanistan by establishing a long-term military and strategic presence in Ukraine, the Russian bear hit reached the end of its tether and Putin made his move. Very intelligently, Putin’s first play was to recognize the two separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk and then wait to see how America and the West would react. Once he saw that the reaction was limited to talk, he launched his military operation to bring Ukraine back into the Russian fold, untroubled by the general threat of sanctions issued by the West and United States.

One should point out that America is desperately standing by Ukraine and tirelessly seeking to gain a foothold in Kyiv, not out of love for Ukraine, but because Ukraine is considered a bountiful land and shares a border with Russia. Ukraine possesses vast reserves of uranium and titanium ore; it ranks second globally in manganese, iron and mercury ore reserves and third in Europe in shale gas reserves. Ukraine also has highly advanced industries, such as oil extraction operations, and produces large amounts of wheat.

The United States, Europe and, indeed, the whole world are well aware of these facts, which is why this will be a long and bitter conflict and it will be hard to predict the outcome. And yet, given that America might not respond with anything that exceeds the threat of economic sanctions, the Russian president seems very confident in his ability to teach the world a history lesson. If sanctions could impact life in Russia, Putin would not have invaded Ukraine.

America’s long history of threatening countries with sanctions is known to everyone, but everyone also knows that these sanctions have failed. Iran, for example, has been under severe U.S. sanctions, but has found ways to circumvent them; numerous reports have detailed how Iran has been able to procure heavy equipment, importing it in parts from several countries. The United States has failed to topple the Iranian regime because this was never its intention.

The United States has imposed sanctions on North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela. Sudan under former President Omar al-Bashir also came under U.S. sanctions, but it was the Sudanese people, not the sanctions, that finally toppled al-Bashir’s regime. More recently, the United States imposed sanctions on Lebanese figures, either because they have ties with Hezbollah or because the United States has charged them with corruption and being involved in Lebanon’s economic collapse. The United States has also targeted Syria with economic sanctions to little effect.

Despite this abject failure, the Biden administration is continuing the policy of administrations before it and reiterating that it will take some time before sanctions on Russia bear fruit. By that time, Putin will have occupied Ukraine, changed its political system and brought it back under Russia’s wing.

We are neither endorsing Putin nor encouraging war with Russia; such a war could spell the destruction of humanity and its achievements, especially if it involved weapons of mass destruction. The point we’re making is that the United States sometimes adopts slippery policies when it deals with major crises. Could it be the United States is trying to prolong the conflict in the cold region by backing opposition to Putin? Or is the United States setting the stage to win new arms deals? All scenarios are possible when it comes to a power that controls the U.N. Security Council and yet is still unable to solve a decades-old struggle like the Middle East’s Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

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About Dona Timani 17 Articles
Originally from Lebanon, Dona Timani is a freelance translator currently based in Istanbul, Turkey. She has over 12 years of experience monitoring, analyzing, and translating Arabic open-source material into English. She holds an MA in plastic arts and is currently studying data analytics and visualization.

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