Coffee House

These latest sanctions against Putin might just work

‘Sanctions,’ said Kofi Annan, ‘are a necessary middle ground between war and words.’ Neither the EU nor the US will deploy troops or missiles to defend Ukraine against Russian-backed separatists, while Vladimir Putin basks in hostile Western words and turns them to domestic advantage. That leaves sanctions as the only means of seeking to influence him. But do they work? Evidence is not persuasive: in 200 cases studied by academics in Washington, from the League of Nations action against Italy’s aggression in Abyssinia in the mid-1930s to Russia’s assault on Georgia in 2008, sanctions were judged successful in one third of cases; in many of those, success was ‘partial’. In all other cases they not only failed but frequently made matters worse by reinforcing bad regimes, intensifying poverty and offering a field day for profiteering.

Recent sanctions against Syria and North Korea have arguably had no effect at all. In Libya, they may have persuaded the venal Gaddafi to renounce terrorism, but he went on brutalising his own people for years. In Iran, sanctions have obstructed the nuclear programme but not the supply of Iranian weaponry to Hamas in Gaza — where the economic blockade by Israel and Egypt has fuelled one of the most explosive conflicts on the planet.


This is a hobby horse on which I have occasionally lectured, most recently at the Nato Defence College in Rome (email if you’d like the text). The truth is that generalised sanctions are useful only as a token of disapproval and an action on which uncertain allies can agree at minimal direct cost; but they have all kinds of adverse consequences. In the case of Russia, Jaguar Land Rover exports from the UK are likely to suffer, as are the fortunes of upmarket London estate agents; BP shareholders, having just enjoyed a bumper quarter, should worry about the future flow of profits from their stake in the Kremlin-controlled Rosneft oil company.

More effective (so western governments now believe) are targeted sanctions, including travel bans and offshore asset freezes, against the power elites of corrupt regimes — though such measures famously failed to spoil Mrs Robert Mugabe’s overseas shopping trips. This is the approach now being taken against ‘Putin’s cronies’, the circle of oligarchs and fixers who form the core of his power base. The key issue is whether these 50 or 60 individuals are driven more by self-interest than by belief in Putin’s resurgent Russian nationalism. The boardroom of what is sometimes referred to as ‘Kremlin Inc’ is filled with men who have bagged themselves a grotesque slice of Russia’s wealth while delivering little or no benefit to their fellow citizens. Now these greedy wheeler-dealers have a reason and an opportunity to do something for their country at last, by whispering to the chairman of Kremlin Inc that he must stop. Let’s hope he is self-interested enough to listen.

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 2 August 2014.

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  • Ordinaryman

    What’s the problem with Russia? It’s a massive country with huge natural resources and a relatively large population. Why isn’t it at least on par with the more advanced economies. Why on earth does it want to expand it’s influence (control) over other countries when it manifestly can’t make the most of what it already has? Is it something to do with the leadership or, is it to do with the Russian psyche? I suspect it’s a combination of both. Not helped, of course, by it being a ‘Socialist’ country.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Actually, it’s the EUSSR and NATO that “want to expand it’s influence (control) over other countries”, not Russia.

      I almost wanted to add that the EUSSR and NATO “manifestly can’t make the most of what it already has”, but that’s a judgement call and we’ll leave that alone for now.

      • Ordinaryman

        Many thanks for pointing out the rather basic grammatical error I made in my previous comment.
        I agree that the EU (EUSSR as you call it) and NATO have expansionist aspirations. But, perhaps arguably, not quite as blatantly as Russia.
        I also agree that both entities have a great deal of room for improvement (I am deeply unhappy and concerned about the EU in particular, but that’s another discussion).
        Having, more or less, agreed with you on these points, I would be interested to read your comments on the central issue that I raised regarding the apparent poor performance of the Russian economy.
        Also, going off subject a little, the EU (EUSSR) does, most definitely, have socialist leanings. Do we, therefore, have a clash between two socialist ‘republics’ – Russia and the EU?

        • the viceroy’s gin

          Personally, I would rather use the ” it’s ” in the possessive case, but somebody decided it was out of bounds, for some strange reason. It makes more sense to me as you’ve used it, although again the rulemakers force us to comply with their persnickety ways, apparently.

          I disagree about the degree of expansionism and aspirations. The EUSSR and NATO have moved far more blatantly and aggressively than Russia, in the recent past and now. In fact, it’s not even a close call.

          The Russian economy is basically growing, unlike those of most of the EUSSR and NATO. It is limited in breadth and depth, but it is growing, although the comparison is not really apples to apples as you would likely agree.

          There may be a “clash” as you mention, but if so, it’s due to aggressive EUSSR and NATO expansionism, and their encouragement of armed action in Russia’s near abroad.

          • Ordinaryman

            Russia’s economy is indeed growing, but the GDP per capita is USD14000.00, which is considerably less than the UK’s GDP per capita at USD39000.00 (2012 statistics). More examples of this differential can be given, but I’m sure you’re aware of them. The point I’m trying to get to grips with is, why has this happened given the resources available to Russia? It’s not as if Russia has not had the time to create the necessary infra-structure.
            With regard to expansionism; we differ only on the magnitude and methods used by each side. Perhaps we’ll leave that one for now.
            The final point is a conundrum. Russia’s near abroad is also Europe’s near abroad. I’m not sure what can be done about that, except to leave it to the people of the countries involved to decide who’s influence they prefer – Russia or EU.
            Primarily, I’m interested in what has held Russia back economically.

            • the viceroy’s gin

              The status of Russia’s economy is of longstanding formation, and so your referencing that status as something that has “happened”, implying it to be a recent phenomenon, is misguided. It’s not of recent origin. And just to repeat, their economy is growing, while the UK’s GDP per capita is declining.

              The magnitude and methods used in expansionism are everything, so referencing that as our “only” differences may be misguided. They are everything, and you and I seem to have wide chasm between us on them.

              Agreed that Russia’s near abroad is other nations’ near abroad. It’d be important then that these near abroad neighbors not encourage violent coups in those adjoining nations, overthrowing legitimately elected governments, as the EUSSR and NATO did in Ukraine.

              Again, nothing is holding Russia back economically. It’s growing. In contrast, the EUSSR is not.

              • Ordinaryman

                I’m surprised that you have taken my comments to imply Russia’s economic status is a “recent phenomenon”. The last sentence of the first paragraph, in my previous comment, should have made it clear that I recognise the situation as a longstanding problem.
                A slight correction to your comments regarding the UK’s GDP. This fell drastically in 2008 but has slowly improved and is continuing to improve since 2010, albeit not as quickly as we would like. Furthermore, and as I’ve mentioned before I’m no fan of the EU, the fact is the EU makes up 7% of the world’s population but produces 25% of its GDP. Russia’s growth is built on the back of this with the sales of commodities to the EU. This does imply that Russia’s current growth is dependant on the EU. It could of course turn to China, but it would very much be the junior partner then.
                With regard to expansionism. Russia has a history of armed suppression to maintain its expansionist philosophy, remember Hungary and, what was, Czechoslovakia. With Putin, this same attitude appears to prevail. Had Ukraine followed the path you seem to be favouring and become part of a Russian Federation, imagine what would have happened if the Ukrainians, further down the line,decided they wanted to leave that Federation
                Again, I would seek an explanation of why, over the years, Russia has fallen so far behind economically, even taking into account its relatively recent growth?

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  We’re talking about now and the recent past, lad. It’s best if you not play semantics.

                  No correction to my statistics needed, slight or otherwise. UK GDP per capita is falling, as mentioned.

                  Disposable income per capita is also falling, by the way. These are signs of economic decline, in contrast to your suggestions to the contrary. And this is before we get to the skyrocketing national debt.

                  The EUSSR is economically declining. You can dress out statistics however you’d like, but it won’t change that. It’s declining, and Russia’s GDP is rising. That’s the reality of this argument. You should stop with the blather to the contrary, because it’s getting annoying. These statistics speak for themselves, you’re just not listening.

                  Don’t know who Russia is “junior partner” to, lad. The only thing we know for certain is that their economy is growing, and the EUSSR’s is not.

                  The USSR had a history of armed suppression. Russia does not. The EUSSR and NATO do have a recent history of armed expansionism, as the recent violent coup they fomented in Ukraine demonstrated. I don’t see “Putin” having this same attitude, contrary to your assertion.

                  You shouldn’t make assertions about what I “seem to be favouring”, lad, particularly if they involve the fantastical hypotheticals you appear to be coming up with now.

                  Again, Russia is growing, lad. The EUSSR is not. You’d do well to figure that out, before you veer off into your fantasies.

                • Ordinaryman

                  Thankyou for the ‘courteous’ manner in which you ended our discussion. It was very revealing, although, not altogether surprising based on other comments you have made on Coffee House. In view of the negative outcome and the obvious waste of time, I will not be bothering you again.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  Yes, it’s best you run off, lad. You have made not one salient or proven point, and your assertions are easily swept aside, as mentioned.

  • John Gerard

    They won’t work. We’ll be at war with Russia within a year, maybe even by Christmas.

  • Liz

    But the Ukraine started it.

  • Carla Chamorro

    With Obama…? Putin could take over the USA drunk.

  • FF42

    I don’t think highly of Vladimir Putin, but let me put myself in his shoes for a moment. He supports a ragbag of East Ukrainian rebels as part of his policy of destabilising Ukraine. He supplies heavy weapons and personnel operating on the fringes of the Russian military establishment. This suport must not be linked directly to him.

    So someone, either Ukrainian rebels or Russian support accidentally fires a missile supplied by Russia and brings down a passenger plane, killing 300 people. Putin blames Ukraine. That’s OK. It’s for public consumption and maintain face etc. But we he could do, should have done and didn’t do, is have private words with those rebels/semi official support people: “You dunderheads, look where you have put me. I am taking your toys away. And you make sure you treat any third party investigators with absolute respect. NOW!”

    instead of which he just sent more of these dangerous toys. Even seeing it from his point of view, it doesn’t make sense.

    • McRobbie

      It makes sense when you see putin strutting about like rambo..he can only act one way and that is to bully and lie and take…its in his KGB DNA.

      • rtj1211

        And you are saying that Victoria Nuland, John Kerry and John McCain haven’t been ‘strutting’ about? They haven’t been pumping $5bn into overthrowing an objectionable, but democratically legitimate government?? They haven’t funded that unelected junta bombing eastern Ukraine and murdering a few thousand people??


        • HookesLaw

          The govt lost its vote in parliament. it was working totally against the will of its people.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            …and the government might have fallen and a new one put in place, but you EUSSR socialist nutters decided to back a violent coup and start this murderous civil war. Congratulations, laddie.

          • Cyril Sneer

            “The govt lost its vote in parliament”

            It didn’t lose its vote in an election which is what should’ve happened.

            When you sidestep the democratic system by supporting a violent coup then you roll the dice on the future of that nation. For Ukraine, it’s civil war. Well done.

    • Cyril Sneer

      “So someone, either Ukrainian rebels or Russian support accidentally fires a missile supplied by Russia”

      I keep hearing stuff like this but I’ve yet to see any real evidence to show that this is the case.

      Nothing like insulting the memories of the 298 who died by accussing without any evidence.

      What the US has produced in the way of evidence thus far has been a joke, yet suckers like you keep buying into the war propaganda. Keep beating them drums…. you send your son, I won’t be sending mine.

      • Alpha Anarchist

        One way to prove that Ukrainian Rebels or Russia did not do this, is to prove that someone else did it. Over to you.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          …so basically your point is that people are guilty until they prove their innocence.

          You’ll fit right in with the Kiev fascists, lad .

          • Alpha Anarchist

            You’re a real word twister aren’t you?

            Surely proving who the perpetrators are removes any suspicion from any other parties. There is a difference between guilty of, and suspected of, both of which can be sorted by finding the truth.

            • the viceroy’s gin

              What words have been “twisted”, lad?

              Your post directly says the innocent should prove their innocence, which is in direct conflict with established Western thought and common law. Again, you’ll fit right in with the Kiev fascist oligarchs, with that kind of thinking.

              • Alpha Anarchist

                “Your post directly says the innocent should prove their innocence,”

                No they didn’t, they said “One way to prove that Ukrainian Rebels or Russia did not do this, is to prove that someone else did it.”

                OK, note the first words, “One way”, not the only way, not necessarily the way they have to do it just one way. If you are rightly or wrongly accused of doing something wrong, then you can counter the accusation, and there are many ways of doing this, like proving you were not there, or that someone else did it.

                Sometimes it happens that people are wrongly accused, which is not the same as guilty until proved innocent, and if someone is wrongly accused, one way of proving their innocence is to show who did it, as I suggested in this case.

                And in the case we are referring to, the accused have made little or no effort to show they are innocent, or that someone else is guilty, so sometimes the accused are guilty.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  Ahhhh, and now you’re going literal. That’s generally the sign of a lost argument, lad.

                  If you are accused of something by a shrill zealot such as you, in the West, thankfully, it isn’t necessary to do anything to prove your innocence, no matter what you zealots might claim. And it isn’t “risky strategy”, whatever that is, again, no matter what you zealots might claim. It’s the law… the common law .

                  No, if my mother had been murdered, I’d mourn her loss and then go on about my business, and cooperate with the authorities, who are properly charged with the investigations your zealotry bizarrely tells you are the charge of me and others.

                  No need to keep arguing this point, lad. It’s senseless. You made a stupid statement, and it imploded under the first slight breeze of challenge . We don’t organize ourselves as your zealotry tells you we should.

                • Alpha Anarchist

                  “If you are accused of something by a shrill zealot such as you….”

                  Well that’s the first point you have got wrong, I have not accused anybody, and I have not taken anybody’s side, so I can hardly be a zealot.

                  The next point you have got wrong is that if you wrongly accused of murdering your Mother, (as I said in the previous post) you would not just go about your business, you would do more.

                  And so it goes on.

                  Also attempts at being patronising are no way to hold an discussion, not and seem intelligent that is.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  Again with the semantics and literality, lad? As mentioned, that implies a lost argument, by your own acknowledgement. It’s a wise acknowledgement, I might add.

                  No, I haven’t gotten anything wrong. You’re just blathering incoherently, now fantasizing about my mother and me, apparently.

                  I’m not “holding a discussion”, lad. I’m shattering the foolishness of your original statement. It’s not a dialogue. It’s an observation of reality.

                  Just let it go, lad. The innocent are under no obligation to demonstrate their innocence. You really shouldn’t debase yourself pushing this zealotry.

                • Alpha Anarchist


                • the viceroy’s gin

                  …brilliant comeback, lad.

                • Alpha Anarchist

                  If you think that’s a comeback, you need therapy.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  …that one’s even better, laddie.

  • Bonkim

    I bet Mr Putin has done his homework and optimized his options.

    • Cooper1992

      I hate to say this as I am a nationalist, with great love for Britain; but I do hope Russia gives ‘the West’ a right kicking.

      For too long we have been far to interventionist, and destroying many a great country. I hope Russia drives a wedge between the European Union, and I hope to see the United States’ power weakened over the next decade.

      Oh and I am praying for the Dutch people that lost their lives when their plane was shot down, in exactly the same way as I am praying for the 290 Iranians who lost of their lives in 1988 on Iran Air Flight 655, killed by the US Navy.

      This time I’m backing Putin.

      • HookesLaw

        Thank you for exposing yourself as the t*rd you are.

        • Cyril Sneer

          Like what you just did.

      • Bonkim

        Agree with all you say – Love of Britain does not mean accepting anti-Russian propaganda. It is not NATO’s business either to sort out the post-USSR break up or tell Russia how to deal with its history. If the US can blockade Cuba during the Cuban missile crisis, no reason why Russia cannot safeguard its interest in its own backyard. Eastern Ukraine with its Russian majority population is a natural part of Russia.

        Ignore the idiots spouting mindless junk.

        • The Laughing Cavalier

          The two Easternmost provinces of the Ukraine have an ethnic Russian population of 38.2% and 39%, hardly a majority.

          • Bonkim

            Time for a referendum.

        • The Laughing Cavalier

          The two Easternmost provinces of the Ukraine have an ethnic Russian population of 38.2% and 39%, hardly a majority.

      • Cyril Sneer

        If hostilities kick off I’ll be flying the Russian flag from my Worcestershire home and I’ll be proud to do so.

        I’m a nationalist too.

    • HookesLaw

      You thionk wrong

      • Bonkim

        Are you monitoring my thinking in real time?

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