By Lilia Shevtsova
The American Interest
The Western sanctions regime against Russia has confirmed that the post-Cold War and post-Communist stage of the world’s history, with all its hopes and illusions, is over. We are now writing a new history.
Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the war against Ukraine, the West has introduced restrictive measures against Russia targeting private entities and individuals, and entire sectors—financial markets, the energy sector, and the defense industry. The Western sanctions endorsed during 2014 in December 2015 were extended for the next half of the year through July 2016.
The Western sanctions regime is based on two premises: to build consensus among the Western countries around the goal of stopping Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and forcing Russia to negotiate a peaceful exit from war through imposing considerable costs on it for not complying with this goal; and to limit the cost of economic restrictions for the West. The point is not to make the costs unbearable for Russia, thus threatening the unraveling of the system or regime change; nor is it to collapse the Russian economy, which would make the country’s future trajectory even more unpredictable. In order to preserve a united front behind the sanctions paradigm, the West is relying on a lowest common denominator formulation: It doesn’t want to cause too much pain either for Russia or for itself, which means that the unity of the West has more value than the sanctions’ ultimate success.
If one takes into account the facts that the Russian System has shifted into aFortress Russia mode and that its nature will remain unchanged as long as Putin’s regime lasts, then one can conclude that such a sanctions policy cannot respond to fundamental cause of the conflict, which is related to the nature of the Russian System. This gives the Kremlin room for maneuver, allowing it to test various instruments of survival, including destabilization of other states, and to attempt to push past the West’s red lines (which are still fuzzy). However, the sanctions policy does make clear to the Kremlin that further aggression against neighboring states would be met with an even stronger Western response, and thus will bring more pain.
That the West has decided to take an unprecedented step to sanction post-communist Russia proves that the liberal democracies have changed their key policy line. They no longer consider Russia as a responsible partner or an ally (at least for now). But do the sanctions mean that the West has developed a strategic vision regarding Russia? One has doubts. As Ivan Krastev and Mark Leonard concluded, “[The EU and the U.S.] have no shared idea of what the sanctions are designed to achieve.” The fact that the West’s punitive steps have been linked to the controversial Minsk agreements tells us that the Western response has been muted.
Picture: Pavel Kazachkov from Moscow, Russia (Moscow Kremlin at night) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons