Experts Split on Effectiveness of Previous Russian Sanctions

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The new sanctions ordered by the U.S. government yesterday against Russia in retaliation for alleged election interference may not be as effective as planned, some experts say.

In March of 2014 the United States imposed sanctions after Russian troops entered Crimea and Russia annexed the peninsula from Ukraine. The measures targeted senior Russian officials and businessmen connected to President Vladimir Putin‘s inner circle, as well as a number of key Russian state companies, blocking those individuals from visiting or holding assets in the U.S. or doing business with some U.S. companies.

According to Paul Saunders, the executive director of the Center for the National Interest, a nonpartisan foreign policy think tank in Washington, D.C., those sanctions and falling oil prices have had little — if any — impact on Russia’s behavior or policy decisions.

“If the standard is changing Russian conduct … then I don’t really think the sanctions have accomplished that much,” he said.

Saunders, a State Department appointee in George W. Bush’s administration, added, “The two principle causes of harm to the Russian economy are bad Russian economic policy and low energy prices. It’s really only after we look at those two things then we can talk about the impact of U.S. sanctions.”

Obama broadened the sanctions after Moscow launched a covert war in eastern Ukraine, where the Kremlin has been arming pro-Russian separatists. The European Union has also imposed sanctions against Moscow over the crisis.

On Thursday the Obama administration expelled 35 Russian intelligence operatives and sanctioned five Russian entities and four individuals for alleged cyberassaults on Democratic political organizations during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“I have ordered a number of actions in response to the Russian government’s aggressive harassment of U.S. officials and cyber-operations aimed at the U.S. election,” he wrote in a statement. “These actions follow repeated private and public warnings that we have issued to the Russian government and are a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests in violation of established international norms of behavior.”

Putin responded to the latest sanctions in a statement, calling them “the recent unfriendly steps taken by the outgoing U.S. administration as provocative and aimed at further weakening the Russia-U.S. relationship.”

John Herbst, a former U.S. ambassador to Uzbekistan who is currently the director of the Atlantic Council’s Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center, said the previous sanctions imposed on Russia have largely affected one person.

“Mr. Putin is a serial aggressor … [and] our sanctions have been successful in imposing a serious cost on Mr. Putin,” Herbst said, citing findings by the International Monetary Fund. “But they have obviously have not done the thing that we wanted them to have done.”

The IMF reported in May that “the Russian economy continues to adjust to the dual shocks of lower oil prices and sanctions.”

Simeon Djankov, a former deputy prime minister and finance minister of Bulgaria, told ABC News that he believes the earlier U.S. sanctions had “perverse” effects in Moscow.

“The only companies that could get access to financing are state-owned companies who have access to state-owned banks,” he said. “Private business, to the extent that it exists, were choked, and state-owned business exploded.”

Djankov, who is now a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, doesn’t see the latest round of sanctions striking a permanent blow to Russian leaders.

“I don’t think they will be revoked, but I think in three to four months the diplomats will return to their places, but the damage is done,” he said.

He continued, “I think they are actually quite appropriate, but they’re late, because there were signals from other countries, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, that they — Russian agencies and private companies associated with these agencies — have been meddling … in the outcome of elections.”

“By now, they have no real effect,” Djankov said.

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