Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
The “direct line” with the President Vladimir Putin showed that the question of the anti-Russian sanctions continues to excite the public and media. Everyone already acquired the thesis about their inefficiency. Why in that case doesn’t the West refuse the attempts of sanctions pressure?
Economic sanctions as a method of achievement of a foreign policy aim have been used as long as civilization has existed. Already wars, which were inspiredly conducted during centuries between each other Egypt Pharaohs, Assyria, Babylonia, Elam, the Hittites kingdom, and other state formations of antiquity were accompanied by attempts to sabotage the economy of the enemy.
In the classical type, sanctions are applied when it isn’t possible to reach an agreement in a diplomatic way, and military operations for some reason are impossible or undesirable. It is possible to consider as the first historical example of such sanctions the actions of the Achaemenid Persian power during the Peloponnesian War of 431-404 B.C.
Having suffered defeat in the course of the Greek-Persian wars, the Persians realized that the military solution to the Greek problem isn’t possible. But financially supporting in serial the Delian and Peloponnesian Leagues (which confronted each other in an internecine war), Achaemenid succeeded to weaken both and establish the soft dependence of the separated Greek Polis on the Persian power.
The anti-Russian sanctions, as well as the counter-sanctions of Russia, are also not the know-how of today. The separated Russian lands were collected again into a united state by Ivan III Vasilyevich, and already his grandson, Ivan IV Vasilyevich Grozny faced the sanctions policy of the Hanseatic League and London directed against Moscow. He more or less successfully used counter-sanctions.
Since then in Russia there was no government that wouldn’t face attempts of the West to organize sanctions pressure and wouldn’t be compelled to look for and find adequate ways to respond to aggression, which at that time they didn’t call yet hybrid.
Over the last 100 years, since 1917, the USSR/Russia has been under sanctions constantly. Even during the Great Patriotic War the allies imposed a ban on the deliveries to the USSR of some types of arms and technologies. And already since 1946, since the beginning of the cold war, did sanctions began to accrue.
It is necessary to say that in most cases the sanctions of the West were inefficient for one reason. They critically depended on deliveries of raw material resources from Russia, while the latter with big or smaller expenses was always capable of making an analog of the western goods themselves, or to find an alternative supplier in the same West.
The exception to this rule is the US, which possessed huge stocks of necessary natural resources, and, directly or indirectly controlling most of the planet since the beginning of the 20th century, had the opportunity to replace deliveries from Russia. For this reason the US, for the last time in 1934, normalized trade relations with the USSR, and after 1945 was the main initiator and conductor of the new policy of sanctions.
However, the only successful case of sanctions pressure by the US belongs to the end of the 1980’s-beginning of the 1990’s. But it is connected not so much with the efficiency of the American sanctions, which had been in effect by then for some decades (including the Jackson–Vanik amendment adopted in 1974), but with the crisis of the Soviet economic system, which resulted in a critical dependence of the USSR/Russia on deliveries from the West, even not for equipment and technologies, but for food.
As soon as the issue of food security of Russia was resolved, sanctions lost their efficiency again. In particular, the inefficiency of the means of economic pressure is evidenced by the fact that the US and the EU began to supplement the policy of economic sanctions with personal sanctions against representatives of the ruling elite, limiting the possibility of visiting specific people and their relatives in Western countries.
Actually, here we have arrived at the key problem that defines the efficiency or inefficiency of sanctions. In practice they are directed not so much towards sabotaging or destroying the national economy that they are imposed on, but towards splitting society. I will remind that Achaemenid achieved hegemony in Greece when they managed to split the unity of policies by means of financial and economic manipulation.
The experience of the USSR, which in 1920-1930 endured much more serious economic problems than those that ruined it in 1991, testifies that any state can overcome economic crisis (often leaving it stronger than it was before) if society remained united and rallies in overcoming the sanctions as a form of external aggression. But as soon as the unity vanishes (even if it is about jeans, the quantity of grades of beer and sausage in shops, and about other minor things), the policy of pressure becomes more than effective.
Therefore, the West, imposing anti-Russian sanctions (for Crimea and Donbass) placed special emphasis in their propaganda on the “ham-parmesan” subject, and also on the impossibility for a part of the Russian elite to “come on vacation and be treated in Europe”. The blow to the personal needs of so-called leaders of public opinion, and also a part of the people involved in the adoption of State decisions, as per the plan, had to lead to a split of the elite. This split , in turn, would have to cause the appeal of the opposing elite groups (through controlled media) for the support of society and, accordingly, to stimulate a split in society.
For the same reason, the West started talking about the inefficiency of the sanctions already by the end of 2014-beginning of 2015. I.e. the sanctions didn’t manage to work properly, yet the losses of the West weren’t so great. They, of course, were sensitive in the conditions of a global system crisis, but would be compensated in the event of a victory over Russia at the expense of the conquered. And thus the West suddenly came to the conclusion about the inefficiency of its habitual policy, which moreover always relies on years, and not days or months.
The reason is that in the beginning Europe, and then the US, understood that the split of Russian society won’t be achieved. On the contrary, it become united in opposition to the aggressive policy of the US and EU. That’s why even if sanctions would cause to Russia considerably bigger economic damage than they could inflict, and the policy of import substitution would appear many times less effective than in practice, it wouldn’t be possible to break the political will of the State to resist. Well, it is impossible to cope with a nuclear military power by external influence, unless it has started to decompose from within.
Actually, that is everything that it is necessary to know about sanctions.
However, we so far haven’t answered the question: why doesn’t the West, which for more than two years wailed about the ineffectiveness of sanctions, remove them? The fact is that in a hybrid war with Russia, the West reached the opposite result than was expected. Instead of a split of the Russian elite and society, it received a split of the elite and societies of the US and EU countries. And this split is so deep that none of the resisting parties can make a compromise without risking to lose their political and economic influence forever (in measures of human life, of course).
In this regard the elite associated with the sanctions policy can’t refuse it without recognizing its internal political bankruptcy. At the same time the precarious situation, where none of the parties fighting in the countries of the West have a decisive advantage, doesn’t allow their opponents to take decisive steps.
That’s why we also see the fluctuating, indecisive, inconsistent policy of the West, when diametrically opposite signals arrive not from different politicians of one country, but even from different representatives of one department.
The largest military theorists of the 18th century suggested to win wars by infinite maneuvering, without trusting the destiny of the campaign to battle, in which the fortune of war (chance) can play a more essential role than the art of the commander and the preparation of troops. To what extent they were right was shown in the battle at Marengo, in which Melas lost to Bonaparte accidentally (the General Desaix, unlike Marshal Grouchy, who didn’t come to Waterloo, made the correct decision and was in time in the battlefield in order to at the last minute break the course of the battle that was at this moment completely lost by the French).
Now we can observe to what extent this rule (not to look for trouble if you aren’t confident in your absolute superiority) is also applicable to economic sanctions. If you were mistaken in your assessment of the stability of the enemy, and they sustained your impact, then it is you who will be obliged to pay the political and economic bill of the conflict started by you.
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