War in Ukraine: Conflict, Strategy, and the Return of a Fractured World

Chapter Sixteen Lose-Lose The Economic Sanctions of the Russo-Ukrainian War 

By Daniel Drezner, Professor of International Politics at The Fletcher School

The proximate origin of the Russo-Ukrainian war dates back to an early 2010s clash of economic statecraft. Ukraine found itself being courted by two considerably larger economies. The European Union (EU) offered association agreements with a number of post-Soviet states, which would reorient their economies toward the West. Russia, in turn, conceived of the Eurasian Union as a regional counterweight to the EU, a means to ensure that its neighboring states would stay within Russia’s geoeconomic orbit. In the fall of 2013, Vladimir Putin threatened Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych with economic sanctions and the use of force unless he rejected the EU deal in favor of joining the Eurasian Union. Eventually Yanukovych acquiesced to Putin, setting off large-scale protests in Kyiv that subsequently triggered regime change in Ukraine. In response, Putin forcibly annexed the Crimean peninsula and incited military action in the Donbas, paving the way for the war to expand eight years later.

The more intense phase of the Russo-Ukrainian war from February 2022 onward has featured a mix of new and old military tactics: 21st-century drone warfare combined with 20th-century artillery barrages. The war has also generated a mix of old and new in its economic sanctions: traditional 20th-century trade embargoes combined with 21st-century attempts at weaponized interdependence.

Any ex ante scholarly evaluation of the ability of sanctions to affect the Russo-Ukrainian war would be pessimistic. For most of the 20th century, the economic sanctions literature was largely dismissive of them as an instrument of statecraft.1 Using sanctions as a means of deterring or of compelling a great power to relinquish territory has produced mostly failed outcomes. Beginning with the end of the Cold War and accelerating after the September 11th terrorist attacks, however, US policymakers enthusiastically embraced economic coercion as a policy option of first resort.2 Two years into the Russo-Ukrainian war, what have we learned about the role of economic statecraft in a 21st-century militarized dispute?

Evaluating the utility of economic statecraft during an ongoing dispute is empirically challenging. The United States is the world’s most active user of economic sanctions, but its federal government has acknowledged that it does not assess the effectiveness of its coercive measures during an ongoing dispute.3 Any assessment of the myriad uses of economic statecraft during the Russo-Ukrainian war must be acknowledged to be preliminary as of this writing.

Despite this caveat, it is difficult not to conclude that the array of economic sanctions employed by both Russia and the US-led coalition opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been largely unsuccessful in achieving its goals. From the US perspective, we know that economic sanctions failed at two of three aims: deterrence and coercion. Western efforts to hinder Russia’s ability to prosecute its war of aggression have been more successful, but those sanctions have not been a pivotal factor affecting the war itself. The Russian Federation’s countersanctions meant to pressure Europe into remaining neutral have also not worked as intended, as European support for Ukraine has persisted. To be sure, all of these sanctions have imposed significant economic costs on their intended targets. Those economic costs, however, have not translated into political concessions. Furthermore, both sides have still engaged in significant amounts of energy trade despite the imposition of sanctions and countersanctions.

Does this assessment mean that the sanctions employed during the war have been in vain? That is a more complicated question. For the United States and its allies, sanctions are an important part of norm enforcement, and the Russo-Ukrainian war challenges one of the most important norms in international relations. The sanctions against Russia also create long-term stresses on the Russian economy, which could serve Western interests. For both the European Union and Russia, the sanctions are a tool of geoeconomics enabling a reorientation of their foreign economic policies. The war has revealed both the hard limits of economic sanctions between great powers and why they are nonetheless a persistent feature of 21st-century world politics.

Deterrence Failures in the Russo-Ukrainian War

In response to Russia’s occupation and subsequent annexation of Crimea, the United States and the European Union imposed an escalating series of sanctions. At the time, officials of Barack Obama’s administration designed the measures to encourage Russia to take an “off-ramp” and de-escalate the crisis following Putin’s loss of influence in Kyiv. These sanctions failed—if anything, Russia escalated the conflict in the Donbas. Obama administration officials have subsequently argued that the threat of delisting Russia’s entire banking sector from SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication)—thereby making cross-border financial transactions prohibitively difficult—did deter Russia from further expanding the conflict.4 The empirical veracity of this claim is difficult to ascertain, but it is safe to say that even if it was true at the time, that deterrence was decidedly ephemeral.

One reason for this was the lack of transatlantic policy coordination in implementing sanctions. For the entirety of the post–Cold War era, there had been tensions between the European Union and the United States over sanctions against perceived adversaries. The United States generally wanted to ratchet up economic pressure; European allies, which often had larger trading relationships with targets like Iran or Russia, resisted such measures. Only after the shoot down of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 did the European Union prove more willing to sanction. At the same time, US officials had repeatedly warned European leaders that Russia’s control of energy pipelines represented an implicit coercive threat, echoing Cold War transatlantic tensions. These tensions spilled over into public view frequently, undoubtedly sending a signal to Putin that multilateral cooperation on substantive economic sanctions was fragile at best. As Walter Russell Mead scornfully wrote in 2014, “The disunity and economic selfishness of the western response has made the West look ridiculous. France will deliver warships, Germany will buy gas, and Britain’s banks are open for Russian business. Putin must be quaking in his boots at this awesome display of resolve.”5

By the fall of 2021, US officials had intelligence confirming Putin’s intentions to widen the war. In the months before the February 24 invasion, Western officials repeatedly and consistently threatened punishing sanctions if Russia escalated the conflict.6 In December of that year, NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg warned of severe economic consequences if Russia invaded Ukraine. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “We’ve made it clear to the Kremlin that we will respond resolutely, including with a range of high impact economic measures that we have refrained from pursuing in the past.”7President Joe Biden relayed the same message directly to Putin in a video recording later that week.8 In January 2022, the Biden White House reiterated that threat, with Biden suggesting personal sanctions against Vladimir Putin and one senior US official warning of economic sanctions “with massive consequences” for Russia. French president Emmanuel Macron echoed Biden, asserting that “if there is aggression, there will be retaliation and the cost will be very high.”9

Officials of the United States and the United Kingdom were explicit about threatening economic sanctions as a means to deter Russian aggression. Daleep Singh, US deputy national security advisor, explained, “The best sanctions are the ones that never have to get used, so by signaling as clearly as we could that these were going to be the most severe sanctions ever on a large economy, perhaps we can deter Putin.” United Kingdom foreign minister Liz Truss concurred: “We were thinking, ‘What is the maximum we can do in the time available? How can we send a very clear signal and warning that this would not be some kind of walkover, and that the West would not just accept it?’ ”10 Russian technocrats briefed Putin a month before the war, warning in no uncertain terms that the costs of sanctions would be severe.11

Clearly, Russia’s February 24 invasion demonstrates that sanctions failed as a form of deterrence. There are multiple causes for this failure. The most obvious factor has little to do with Western economic statecraft. Imperial control over Ukraine has long been the top strategic priority of Vladimir Putin.12 Putin had demonstrated a persistent belief that Ukrainian sovereignty was a fiction and that the country was part of “Novorossiya.”13 While Russia’s annexation of Crimea and occupation of the Donbas represented tactical victories, they came at the strategic cost of reorienting the rest of Ukraine toward the West. Ukraine’s relatively robust democratic norms also represented a subversive challenge to Putin’s more autocratic form of governance. With a waning window of opportunity to influence events in Ukraine, it is unlikely that any purely economic threat, no matter how accurately it was signaled, would have deterred Russian aggression.

In regard to the economic statecraft calculus, Putin’s perception of the cost-benefit calculation likely caused him to dismiss the sanctions threat. After the 2014 round of sanctions against Russia, Putin pursued a policy explicitly designed to “sanction-proof” the economy.14 This included accumulating currency reserves in excess of $600 billion, reducing reliance on external borrowing to finance Russian debt, diversifying away from the dollar, and reorienting trade toward China. Russian countersanctions against Europe after 2014 spurred additional import substitution in agricultural goods, reinforcing the perception of a resilient Russian economy. These efforts proved to be hollow; Russian manufacturing and finances remained dependent on access to the outside world. Nonetheless, both Putin and outside observers believed that Russian resilience efforts had been successful. By February 2022, experts had concluded that “[Russian economic officials] are pretty proud, and have good reasons to be, for the work they have done to make the Russian economy more immune to sanctions.”15 At the same time, European reliance on Russian energy likely convinced Putin that Russia possessed escalation dominance on the question of economic sanctions.16

Finally, the probability of strong multilateral cooperation in advance of sanctions was murky prior to the invasion. European leaders offered enough rhetorical wiggle room for Russia to downgrade the probability of collective pressure. For example, in Macron’s January 2022 speech to the European Parliament, he said, “It’s good for Europe and the U.S. to coordinate, but it is vital that Europe has its own dialogue with Russia.” In the same speech he proposed that the EU negotiate a separate security agreement with Moscow.17 This rhetoric, combined with his frantic shuttle diplomacy with Putin, revealed Macron’s preference for an independent European approach. Similarly, German chancellor Olaf Scholz repeatedly waffled on whether Germany would respond to a Russian invasion with a suspension of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.18 While transatlantic policy coordination was in fact significant, it was difficult to signal that to Moscow without also signaling the tactical sanctions plan. It was understandable that Russia underestimated the potency of the economic sanctions that were actually imposed.

Compellence Failures in the Russo-Ukrainian War

After the invasion on February 24, the United States, European Union, and allied nations implemented an escalating series of economic sanctions designed to punish the Russian economy. These measures included kicking major Russian financial institutions off of SWIFT, freezing Russian assets held in sanctioning countries, and imposing an array of import and export restrictions. Russian officials publicly acknowledged that they were surprised by the scope and depth of the sanctions that were imposed after the February invasion.19

Two elements surprised Russian officials the most. The first was the coordinated freeze of approximately $300 billion in Russian central bank reserves held in the jurisdiction of sanctioning countries. While Russia had taken care to move assets away from the United States, officials were unprepared for European officials acting in a similar and coordinated manner. The second was the wave of Western multinational corporations announcing withdrawals or divestment from the Russian economy. These announcements generated something of a contagion effect; their number rapidly increased from 250 to 1,000 over a few months.20

The immediate effect of the sanctions on the Russian economy was considerable. The ruble plunged in value relative to the dollar, crashing from a prewar exchange rate of 75 rubles to the dollar to a low of 143 rubles to the dollar on March 3. Muscovites waited in long lines at ATM machines to withdraw their savings, triggering concerns about bank runs. The Central Bank of Russia had little choice but to raise its discount rate by more than a thousand basis points to over 20%.

US and allied officials began to conceive of economic coercion forcing Russia to halt its invasion. One way that imposed sanctions can succeed is if the economic pain imposed exceeds the target state’s expectations.21 Furthermore, there are additional pathways for economic sanctions to compel a shift in behavior beyond the target’s rational cost-benefit analysis of its national interest. If the targeted leader fears either elite or mass unrest, for example, that leader could be compelled to acquiesce as a means of staying in power. In the first weeks of the war, the New York Times reported that this seemed to be the hope for both US and European officials:

As they impose historic sanctions on Russia, the Biden administration and European governments have set new goals: devastate the Russian economy as punishment for the world to witness, and create domestic pressure on President Vladimir V. Putin to halt his war in Ukraine, current and former U.S. officials say.…

The thinking among some U.S. and European officials is that Mr. Putin might stop the war if enough Russians protest in the streets and enough tycoons turn on him.…

The moves have also ignited questions in Washington and in European capitals over whether cascading events in Russia could lead to “regime change,” or rulership collapse.22

Again, however, these hopes proved to be unfounded. Less than a week later, US and European officials acknowledged that they had adjusted their expectations toward a protracted conflict.23 Russia evinced minimal interest in ending the war. In subsequent interviews, Biden administration officials made it clear that the purpose of the ongoing sanctions regime had shifted from coercion to denial.

The reasons that economic coercion failed parallel the reasons that deterrence failed. As a general rule, compellence is always more difficult than deterrence because it is politically more costly to retreat from a policy than never to implement it in the first place. The moment Russia decided to launch its full-scale invasion, what had been a challenging situation for economic statecraft became even more difficult. This was particularly true given the stakes for Russia in its invasion of Ukraine. When faced with such demands, even the weakest and poorest target governments have the capacity to resist economic pressure. In the past half-decade US-led sanctions crippled both the Iranian and Venezuelan economies, generating considerable domestic unrest in both countries. Nonetheless, neither target regime responded with appreciable concessions.

Russia is a stronger, more powerful actor than either Iran or Venezuela. Putin’s regime responded to the sanctions with a mixture of economic and repressive policies. On the economic side, the government and central bank initiated a raft of microeconomic and macroeconomic responses designed to prevent bank runs and tamp down inflationary pressures. The government banned Russians from transferring hard currency abroad, including for servicing foreign loans. Federal spending increased to counteract the drop-off in business investment and consumer spending. Politically, Putin’s government launched a ferocious crackdown on domestic unrest, arresting protestors and censoring negative coverage of the conflict. As economist Sergei Guriev explained, “the central bank is backed by riot police.”24

In retrospect, the hope for Russia to acquiesce to Western economic pressure was misplaced. However, it should be noted that Russian economic pressure on European countries also failed to yield any concessions in their support of Ukraine. At the start of the war there were deep-seated concerns that a Russian cutoff of energy exports would trigger domestic pressure in these countries to reach an accommodation with Moscow. Russia periodically suspended energy shipments to Europe in 2022, claiming technical difficulties with pipelines.25 Despite this economic pressure, European Union assistance to Ukraine continued unimpeded. The EU’s resistance to economic pressure equaled that of Russia.

Sanctions as a Tool of Denial in the Russo-Ukrainian War

By the spring of 2022 the messaging from US and European officials shifted from employing economic sanctions as a tool of coercion to employing them as a tool of denial—that is, to contain and harm the Russian state. This denial strategy had two prongs. The first was to limit Russia’s ability to prosecute the war in Ukraine by impairing its ability to replace military hardware destroyed in the war. It is not a coincidence that the first sector-specific sanctions imposed after the February 24 invasion were targeted at Russia’s defense industrial base. Despite rising tensions over the previous decade, Russia had become extremely dependent on imported semiconductor chips to fuel its defense sector and lacked the indigenous capacity for substitution.26 The intent to harm Russia’s military-industrial complex was made explicit in official US and EU discourse.

The second aim was to weaken the Russia economy more generally. Two months after the invasion, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said, “We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.”27 Russia under Putin has been keen to play the role of spoiler in world politics, attempting to influence elections in Europe and regimes across the Global South. Any policy that could weaken Russian capabilities would not just reduce the Russian military threat; it would also mitigate Russia’s revisionist aims across the globe.

How well have sanctions worked as a tool of denying Russian military and power-projection capabilities? The evidence here is mixed. The greatest success seems to have been limiting Russia’s ability to procure the high-tech inputs—precision machine tools and semiconductor chips—necessary for a war-fighting strategy. While Russian officials have publicly dismissed the effect of Western sanctions, multiple officials, including Putin, have acknowledged the pain caused by the sanctions on high-technology goods.28

This does not mean that Russia has been unable to procure high-end technological components. Multiple reports have highlighted channels through which these components are getting into Russia. These pathways include the following: a reliance on outsourced production facilities in states with weaker export controls, the importation of dual-use goods that allow the cannibalization of computer chips, the development of third-party trade routes, and a surge of imports from China.29 Nonetheless, even these reports suggest that Russia has been unable to procure its prewar demand for imported components.30 This appears to be the sector where denial has been the most successful.

That said, the denial strategy has hampered but not debilitated Russia’s military efforts in Ukraine. In part this is because Russia has found substitutes for its own military tech via the “Coalition of the Sanctioned”—in other words, Russia has imported military hardware from other states facing heavy US sanctions. Both Iran and North Korea have been eager to function as “black knights” by exporting significant weaponry to Russia. Iran has licensed Russia to produce an improved version of the Iranian Shahed-136 attack drone in the Alabuga special economic zone. The stated goal is to produce six thousand drones by 2025.31 North Korea has supplied Russia with significant amounts of artillery. According to Ukrainian intelligence, the North Korean imports enabled Russia to avoid a catastrophic situation on the battlefield.32

The evidence is also mixed on the overall weakening of the Russian economy. Despite the March 2022 predictions that Russia’s economy would shrink between 10% and 15% in the first year after sanctions were imposed, the actual number was much smaller: approximately 2%. In the second year of the war, Russia’s gross domestic product was projected to grow between 2% and 3%. Increased government largesse over the past two years has severely mitigated the macroeconomic impact of the sanctions. Russia’s oil exports—including to European countries—enabled the country to continue earning considerable export revenue.

It should be noted that the Russian economy faces significant problems going forward. After recovering from the initial shock of sanctions, the ruble slid in value relative to the dollar throughout most of 2023, in no small part because inflation has topped 7%. There are acute labor shortages throughout the economy. Former Russian central bank official Alexandra Prokopenko describes Putin as facing an impossible trilemma: funding the ongoing war against Ukraine, maintaining consumer living standards, and safeguarding macroeconomic stability.33 Still, the hardships facing the Russian economy are more a product of the ongoing war in Ukraine than the effect of the sanctions. It is not hard to find media reports suggesting that sanctions alone have had minimal effects on the Russian economy.34 Public opinion polling at the beginning of 2023 showed that a supermajority of Russians were unconcerned about the sanctions.35

Why have sanctions not worked better as a tool of denial? Long-standing goods embargoes create different political dynamics than do financial sanctions. The United States’ government has been able to weaponize the dollar due to the dominance of US capital markets in global finance. The cooperation of other key financial hubs makes these sanctions even easier to implement. Over the past quarter-century, systemically important banks have invested considerable sums in sanctions compliance.36 The combined effect is to ensure that most US-led financial sanctions will result in immediate and significant economic costs.

Strategic embargoes, however, have different necessary conditions to have a significant economic impact. Multilateral cooperation is much more important to ensuring that all producers of targeted goods are in compliance. This includes countries that could act as transit corridors between the sanctioning states and the target. Coordination with the private sector is also of obvious importance. Finally, if the goal is to harm the target’s macroeconomy, sanctioning states have to be willing to prioritize that goal above all else. This means that sanctioning countries must be willing to incur costs that might impair their own economy’s health.

In looking at the denial sanctions against Russia, almost none of these criteria are met. Beyond Iran and North Korea, key manufacturing countries like China are in less than full compliance with the sanctions. There are multiple observable transit corridors between manufacturing exporters and Russia in the South Caucasus, Central Asia, Middle East, and Far East. Private sector compliance is also not as robust as in the financial sector—not least of all because some of these firms are still moving along the learning curve on sanctions compliance and export controls. For example, in response to reports on US-produced semiconductors reaching the Russian defense sector, the Semiconductor Industry Association explained, “We have rigorous protocols to remove bad actors from our supply chains, but with one trillion chips sold globally each year, it’s not as simple as flipping a switch.”37 It is possible that over time firms in non-financial sectors will adopt stronger compliance mechanisms. It is worth remembering, however, that private sector preferences in high-tech trade can clash with the preferences of sanctioning states.38 Additionally, the penalties for violating export controls are less severe than those faced by the financial sector.

Finally, the G7 (Group of Seven) countries intentionally moved slowly to restrict energy imports from Russia and institute a price cap on that country’s oil exports. While the United States did impose some immediate restrictions, they had insignificant effects on energy markets. The European Union took almost a year before banning sea-based oil imports, nearly as long as it took for the G7 to attempt a price cap on Russian oil exports. The European Union eventually imposed severe restrictions on oil, petroleum, liquefied natural gas, and coal imports from Russia—but in 2023 the EU imported record amounts of Russian liquefied natural gas.39

None of this is terribly surprising. There is ample evidence that even between warring states, trade can persist in sectors that do not have an immediate impact on the battlefield. Sanctioning Russian oil exports in early 2022 would have roiled global energy markets and had a catastrophic effect on European economies. The US State Department explained, “We do not have a strategic interest in reducing the global supply of energy, which would raise energy prices around the world and pad Putin’s profits.”40 The G7 price cap was designed to keep Russian oil in the global market while reducing Russian profits. Russia, in turn, has used a shadow tanker fleet to evade sanctions—but it has not halted energy exports. As Mariya Grinberg notes, trade between warring states can still be a logical outcome: “states continue to trade in products that are essential to the domestic economy but that can be obtained only from the opponent, because sacrificing this trade would impair the state’s long-term security.”41 Once expectations of a longer conflict set in, however, adversaries will take measures to reduce cross-border and third-party trade. By the end of 2023, the EU and member governments were pursuing a variety of different strategies to reduce Russian energy imports.42 The EU announced its intention to wean itself from Russian energy by 2027.

As Europe has diversified its energy sources, it is worth noting that Russia’s denial capabilities have, in turn, failed too. While countries like India and China are perfectly happy to buy Russian oil, they are willing to do so because they can purchase it at a steep discount due to the G7 price cap. Furthermore, European reductions of natural gas purchases will hurt Russia’s economy for quite some time. Russia cannot simply redirect its natural gas to China or other buyers without building the requisite pipelines. That will take at least a decade to happen. At the end of 2022, the International Energy Agency concluded, “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is prompting a wholesale reorientation of global energy trade, leaving Russia with a much-diminished position.… [T]he rupture has come with a speed that few imagined possible.… Russia is unsuccessful in finding markets for all of the flows that previously went to Europe.”43 Russia also overestimated its ability to use countersanctions as a tool of denial.


There are ongoing disputes within the sanctions literature about their relative efficacy as an instrument of statecraft. There is a consensus, however, that—all else being equal—sanctioning great powers is less likely to work. Great powers are most likely to possess the strategic reserves and capacities necessary to withstand sustained economic pressure. Furthermore, almost by definition, great powers will anticipate frequent conflicts with the rivals that are sanctioning them. Expectations of future conflict reduce the probability of successful coercive bargaining even further. Finally, sanctions are particularly unlikely to cause targeted great powers to relinquish territory won through the expenditure of blood and treasure. In the history of economic statecraft, the number of instances in which a state—much less a great power—agreed to concede territory in response to economic sanctions is vanishingly small. The likelier outcome in response to maximum economic pressure is either military escalation by the target (as with Japan in 1941) or the sender (as with the United States with Iraq and the Balkans in the 1990s). It is therefore unsurprising that sanctions failed as a tool of deterrence and compellence in the Russo-Ukrainian war.

Increasingly, Western countries view sanctions as a tool of denial: that is, weakening the aggregate power of the targeted actor. The Russo-Ukrainian case highlights multiple policy challenges for using sanctions as a form of denial with a great power. Such a strategy creates dynamics different from those for sanctions employed as a tool of deterrence or compellence. For a denial strategy to work, multilateral cooperation is essential to ensure that the target cannot find alternatives for sanctioned goods. That, in turn, requires an institutional machinery to make cooperation sustainable and enforceable over the long run. The private sector needs to have the necessary compliance mechanisms to enforce the sanctions. And the sanctions have to be incentive-compatible, meaning that the senders do not incur long-term economic costs in the process of sanctioning.

Most of these conditions have not existed in the sanctions involving Russia and Ukraine. Russia has failed to meet any of these criteria in its countersanctions against the West. The United States has faced difficulties meeting these criteria. Multilateral cooperation has been robust in the West, but it has been neither global in scope nor institutionalized to any degree. The private sector has been behind the curve in implementation and enforcement. And the nature of Russian-European trade militates against total embargo.

Does this mean that sanctions have been counterproductive? Not necessarily. While sanctions may not have deterred Russia, it remains possible that they succeeded as a more general form of deterrence. If other actors contemplated similar irredentist violations of territorial sovereignty but were persuaded by the punitive nature of the Russia sanctions, that would be a significant policy accomplishment.44 Relatedly, sanctions also serve as a means of norm enforcement. Violations of Westphalian territorial sovereignty are among the most transgressive acts in modern world politics. It makes sense that states defending those norms would need to use sanctions. Finally, the sanctions might accelerate—on both sides—a degree of necessary economic autonomy. The less dependent that Europe is on imports of Russian energy, for example, the less anxiety there is on the continent about the future.

These are all secondary arguments in favor of the sanctions imposed after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, however. Regarding the primary arguments, sanctions failed as a form of deterrence or compellence. They proved to be modestly useful as a tool of denial. Russia’s use of countersanctions also failed. In retrospect, the expectation that sanctions would affect the course of the Russo-Ukrainian war proved to be unfounded.

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a nonresident senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. He is the codirector of Fletcher’s Russia and Eurasia program.

I am grateful to Christopher Miller for his feedback on an earlier draft and to the participants of the February 2024 America in the World conference for their thoughtful comments as well.


1.  For a longer discussion of the economic sanctions literature, please see Daniel W. Drezner, “Global Economic Sanctions,” Annual Review of Political Science 27 (forthcoming).2.  See, for example, Juan Zarate, Treasury’s War: The Unleashing of a New Era of Financial Warfare (New York: PublicAffairs, 2013); Robert Blackwill and Jennifer Harris, War by Other Means: Geoeconomics and Statecraft (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016); Richard Nephew, The Art of Sanctions: A View from the Field (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017).3.  US Government Accountability Office, Economic Sanctions, GAO-20-145 (Washington, DC, October 2, 2019).4.  See, for example, Phil McCausland, “Russia Sanctions Are a ‘Big Deal,’ Experts Say. But Effects Could Take Years,” NBC News, February 25, 2022, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/russia-sanctions-are-big-deal-experts-say-effects-take-years-rcna17380. ; Edward Wong and Michael Crowley, “Putin Insulated Russia’s Economy. Will Biden’s Sanctions Hold Him Back in Ukraine?,” New York Times, February 22, 2022.5.  Walter Russell Mead, “Russia Blows Past Obama’s ‘Off Ramp,’ ” American Interest, March 6, 2014, https://www.the-american-interest.com/2014/03/06/russia-blows-past-obamas-off-ramp/6.  For an excellent timeline of economic sanctions threatened and implemented against Russia, see Chad P. Bown, “Russia’s War on Ukraine: A Sanctions Timeline,” Peterson Institute for International Economics, December 31, 2023, https://www.piie.com/blogs/realtime-economics/russias-war-ukraine-sanctions-timeline7.  Dan De Luce and Abigail Williams, “Biden Admin Threatens Harsh Sanctions against Russia If It Invades Ukraine,” NBC News, December 1, 2021, https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/national-security/biden-admin-threatens-harsh-sanctions-russia-invades-ukraine-rcna72618.  Paul Sonne, Ashley Parker, and Isabelle Khurshudyan, “Biden Threatens Putin with Economic Sanctions If He Further Invades Ukraine,” Washington Post, December 7, 2021.9.  Julian Borger, “Biden Threatens Putin with Personal Sanctions If Russia Invades Ukraine,” The Guardian, January 26, 2022.10.  Both quotes from Erin Banco et al., “ ‘Something Was Badly Wrong’: When Washington Realized Russia Was Actually Invading Ukraine,” Politico, February 24, 2023.11.  Max Seddon and Polina Ivanova, “How Putin’s Technocrats Saved the Economy to Fight a War They Opposed,” Financial Times, December 16, 2022.12.  See the chapter by McFaul and Person in this volume.13.  Serhii Plokhy, The Russo-Ukrainian War: The Return of History (New York: W. W. Norton, 2023), 120–138; see also Vladimir Putin, “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians,” Presidential Administration of Russia, July 12, 2021, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/6618114.  Chris Miller, Putinomics: Power and Money in Resurgent Russia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018).15.  Alexander Gabuev, quoted in Max Fisher, “Putin, Facing Sanction Threats, Has Been Saving for This Day,” New York Times, February 3, 2022.16.  Christina Stoelzel Chadwick and Andrew Long, “Foreign Policy Alignment and Russia’s Energy Weapon,” Foreign Policy Analysis 19, no. 2 (April 2023).17.  Jamie Dettmer, “Macron’s Call for EU Talks with Kremlin Unnerves European Allies,” Voice of America, January 20, 2022, https://www.voanews.com/a/macron-s-call-for-eu-talks-with-kremlin-unnerves-european-allies-/6405475.html18.  Katrin Bennhold, “Where Is Germany in the Ukraine Standoff? Its Allies Wonder,” New York Times, January 25, 2022.19.  Victor Jack, “Sergey Lavrov Admits Russia Was Surprised by Scale of Western Sanctions,” Politico Europe, March 23, 2022, https://www.politico.eu/article/lavrov-admits-no-one-could-have-predicted-scale-of-western-sanctions/20.  Jeffrey Sonnenfeld et al., “Business Retreats and Sanctions Are Crippling the Russian Economy” (working paper, S&P Global Market Intelligence, 2022), https://ssrn.com/abstract=416719321.  Jon Hovi, Robert Huseby, and Detlef F. Sprinz, “When Do (Imposed) Economic Sanctions Work?,” World Politics 57, no. 4 (July 2005): 479–499.22.  Edward Wong and Michael Crowley, “With Sanctions, U.S. and Europe Aim to Punish Putin and Fuel Russian Unrest,” New York Times, March 4, 2022.23.  Ashley Parker et al., “ ‘No Off-Ramps’: U.S. and European Officials Don’t See a Clear Endgame in Ukraine,” Washington Post, March 10, 2022.24.  Seddon and Ivanova, “How Putin’s Technocrats Saved the Economy.”25.  See, for example, Georgi Kantchev, “Russia Halts Nord Stream Gas Pipeline, Ratcheting Up Pressure on Europe,” Wall Street Journal, August 31, 2022.26.  James Byrne et al., Silicon Lifeline: Western Electronics at the Heart of Russia’s War Machine (London: Royal United Services Institute, August 2022); Daria Talanova, “Last Chance Saloon,” Novaya Gazeta, September 18, 2023, https://novayagazeta.eu/articles/2023/09/18/last-chance-saloon. ; Alena Popova, “How to Exploit Russia’s Addiction to Western Technology,” Foreign Affairs, November 3, 2023, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/china/how-exploit-russias-addiction-western-technology27.  Missy Ryan and Annabelle Timsit, “U.S. Wants Russian Military ‘Weakened’ from Ukraine Invasion, Austin Says,” Washington Post, April 25, 2022.28.  Marcus Parekh and Berny Torre, “Putin Admits Kremlin Facing ‘Colossal’ High-Tech Problems due to Sanctions,” The Telegraph, July 18, 2022.29.  Ana Swanson and Matina Stevis-Gridneff, “Russia Is Importing Western Weapons Technology, Bypassing Sanctions,” New York Times, April 18, 2023; Chris Cook, “Moscow Imports a Third of Battlefield Tech from Western Companies,” Financial Times, January 11, 2024; Dalton Bennett et al., “Precision Equipment for Russian Arms Makers Came from U.S.-Allied Taiwan,” Washington Post, February 1, 2024.30.  Zoya Sheftalovich and Laurens Cerulus, “The Chips Are Down: Putin Scrambles for High-Tech Parts as His Arsenal Goes Up in Smoke,” Politico, September 5, 2022.31.  Dalton Bennett and Mary Ilyushina, “Inside the Russian Effort to Build 6,000 Attack Drones with Iran’s Help,” Washington Post, August 17, 2023. Russia will fall short of that goal because even Iranian drones require Western-produced semiconductor chips.32.  Christopher Miller, “Kyrylo Budanov: The Ukrainian Military Spy Chief Who ‘Likes the Darkness,’ ” Financial Times, January 21, 2024.33.  Alexandra Prokopenko, “Putin’s Unsustainable Spending Spree,” Foreign Affairs, January 8, 2024.34.  See, for example, “Russia’s Key Economic Sectors Shrug Off Sanctions,” Bloomberg, November 15, 2023. For an opposing perspective, see Georgi Kantchev, “Putin’s Warped Wartime Economy, as Seen through a Carton of Eggs,” Wall Street Journal, January 18, 2024.35.  Emily Sullivan, Dina Smeltz, Denis Volkov, and Stepan Goncharov, “Few Russians Are Anxious about Western Sanctions,” Chicago Council on Global Affairs, January 2023.36.  Julia Morse, The Bankers’ Blacklist: Unofficial Market Enforcement and the Global Fight against Illicit Financing (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2022).37.  Quoted in Swanson and Stevis-Gridneff, “Russia Is Importing Western Weapons Technology.”38.  Ling Chen and Miles Evers, “ ‘Wars without Gun Smoke’: Global Supply Chains, Power Transitions, and Economic Statecraft,” International Security 48, no. 2 (Fall 2023): 164–204.39.  Alice Hancock and Shotaro Tani, “EU Imports Record Volumes of Liquefied Natural Gas from Russia,” Financial Times, August 30, 2023.40.  Shotaro Tani, Ian Johnston, and James Politi, “US Seeks to Thwart Russia’s Ambition to Become a Major LNG Exporter,” Financial Times, November 12, 2023.41.  Mariya Grinberg, “Wartime Commercial Policy and Trade between Enemies,” International Security 46, no. 1 (Summer 2021): 10.42.  Alice Hancock, “EU to Give Member States Power to Block Russian Gas Imports,” Financial Times, December 8, 2023.43.  International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook 2022, last modified November 24, 2022, https://www.iea.org/reports/world-energy-outlook-202244.  See the chapter by Lin and Hart in this volume for more on this topic.

(This post is republished from Johns Hopkins University Press.)

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