Will Western sanctions on Russia do the trick? - LEVENT YILMAZ

Will Western sanctions on Russia do the trick?

The imposition of sanctions against Moscow was one of the most hotly debated topics that emerged after Russia waged its war against Ukraine. In this column, I will try my best to share everything you need to know about sanctions, an instrument of economic security policy, and, perhaps most importantly, whether they work or not.

What are sanctions?

Economic security has nowadays become an essential academic field of research, and we have recently seen quite a few comprehensive studies in this field. 

In economic security literature, which is my field of study, sanctions constitute an important policy tool, along with trade, finance, and aid.

We define economic sanctions as the politically motivated policy of depriving the target country of sustaining normal economic relations, with the aim of changing or restricting its behavior as it becomes isolated from the global economy.

Do sanctions actually work?

I won't beat around the bush. The short answer is: unfortunately, not! 

Since the end of the Cold War, we have seen economic sanctions being widely implemented. However, there is no example worth mentioning that has achieved a regime change in a targeted country by relying on sanctions alone.

Sanctions can sometimes be applied against the rulers of a state or to target the entire economy of a country. However, history tells us that wide-ranging sanctions, whether targeting individuals or the whole country's economy, have a very limited impact on altering their behavior. 

Thus, it appears to be a long shot that sanctions imposed on autocratic leaders of Putin’s caliber, and countries such as Iran, will reach their desired target. For example, both an embargo and sanctions have been in place against Iran for years, yet, the expected change in behavior has not materialized.

Be proactive, not reactive!

Meanwhile, although their effects are limited, another important thing we must be aware of when it comes to sanctions is their timing. Because (reactive) sanctions imposed in response to a developing event have a lower chance of success in contrast to (proactive) sanctions implemented to prevent an event that is yet to pass. Therefore, it seems unlikely that the sanctions imposed on Russia after it invaded Ukraine will have much of a chance of achieving the desired results.

Should Turkey impose sanctions on Russia?

In a nutshell: no! Because aside from the issue of commercial ties between the two countries, sanctions are also a no-brainer when it comes to dialogue. Let's take a look at what Turkish presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın had to say on the matter:

"What we say to both sides is to give negotiations a chance. Our focus is to stop these attacks as soon as possible and to strike a ceasefire. There needs to be an actor who can talk to Russia. Who will speak to Russia when everyone is burning bridges? To keep this channel open, we are not planning a sanctions package,” Kalin stated, emphasizing that dialogue and diplomacy must be prioritized, instead of arbitrary sanctions that seem unlikely to achieve their goals.


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