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U.S. Opts for Toothless Sanctions on Russia

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Many reading the news that the Obama Administration is imposing ineffective sanctions on Russia might think the Administration is failing to reach its goal, but Stratfor’s George Friedman writes in the article excerpted below that the sanctions being imposed on Russia are “intentionally ineffective.” According to Friedman,

— the United States doesn’t want to threaten regime survival in a country with massive military power. Nor does it want to engage in an action that would trigger an invasion of Ukraine and force the United States to either back away or join a war it is unprepared for. It also will try to avoid mistakenly seizing U.S. and European assets — assets deployed by Russia deliberately to bait Washington into making just such a mistake.

“The U.S. sanctions strategy is therefore not designed to change Russian policies,” Friedman believes, “it is designed to make it look like the United States is trying to change Russian policy.”

Friedman continues:

And it is aimed at those in Congress who have made this a major issue and at those parts of the State Department that want to orient U.S. national security policy around the issue of human rights. Both can be told that something is being done — and both can pretend that something is being done — when in fact nothing can be done. In a world clamoring for action, prudent leaders sometimes prefer the appearance of doing something to actually doing something.

By George Friedman

The United States announced new sanctions on seven Russian government officials April 28. A long-used tactic, sanctions can yield unpredictable effects or have no effect at all, depending upon how they are crafted. It is commonly assumed that sanctions are applied when a target country’s actions are deemed unacceptable. The sanctioning nation presumably chooses sanctions to avoid war when war would be too costly or could result in defeat.

Sanctions’ stated purpose is to induce behavioral changes in a target state by causing economic pain. To work, sanctions must therefore cause pain. But they must not be so severe that they convince the target state that war is more desirable than capitulating to the demands of the sanctioning nation.

Placing effective sanctions on a country such as Russia is much more complicated than placing them on countries like Iran or the Central African Republic because the Russians have potential military responses. They also have the ability to retaliate by seizing Western assets in Russia: There are many Western companies doing business in Russia with significant equipment, factories, bank accounts and so on. Moscow also has the power to cut energy supplies to Europe. Whether it would be prudent for Russia respond in those ways is an important question, but the mere fact Russia has a range of retaliatory options is an important consideration.

Read more: Stratfor.com

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