Sanctions Won’t End Russia’s War in Ukraine,

Mariya Grinberg, Assistant Professor of Political Science and a member of the Security Studies Program at MIT

On December 7, the European Commission proposed a new sanctions package to coerce Russia to end its invasion of Ukraine. After the previous eight sanctions packages, the costs of the sanctions regime for Europe are mounting. With winter approaching and temperatures dropping, and as a direct consequence of severing trade with Russia, Europe is preparing for electricity outages, a lack of lighting and heat, and temporary cuts in internet and mobile service. Yet the war continues, with Russia escalating to a campaign of missile strikes against Ukrainian energy infrastructure.

Indeed, it is the collective nature of the sanctions—the process of their development and implementation—that allows Russia to circumvent the worst of the intended economic pain. Each member of the sanctioning coalition is incentivized to decrease the individual burden felt from severing economic relations with Russia. This not only reduces the effectiveness of the ultimate compromise, but also provides Russia with lead time to adjust to future sanctions and incentivizes Western firms to increase trade with Russia before sanctions are imposed. […]

The other way to increase the sanctions’ leverage is to ensure that Russia can’t adjust to the effects of the sanctions package before it is enforced. This requires getting India and China, as well as other smaller yet key economies, on board with the sanctions regime. To tempt India, at the very least, the West would need to offer oil at a cheaper rate than Russia. Of course, this would be no guarantee of Indian participation; the expected outcome would merely level the playing field with Russia. It is hard to imagine what could get China to agree on a sanctions package against Russia. It is even harder to imagine the West being willing to pay that price. Yet, as long as Russia has viable alternative markets for its key exports and alternative trade partners willing to sell it necessary products, sanctions will not be able to apply sufficient pressure to change Russia’s policy in Ukraine.

To facilitate an end to the war in Ukraine, the West will need to look to alternative tools. At this juncture, diplomacy is the tool most likely to succeed. As Russia has nuclear weapons, even a decisive military victory by Ukraine that pushed Russian troops beyond the border is not a guarantee of war termination. Russia can continue shelling Ukrainian infrastructure from its territory. Moreover, a Ukrainian incursion into Russian territory would carry significant risks of nuclear retaliation. Läs artikel