Western sanctions on Russia will have a significant impact on the economy, but are unlikely to stop its assault on Ukraine, an expert on economic warfare says.
Gary Hufbauer, a researcher at Washington’s Peterson Institute for International Economics, has studied 100 cases of sanctions being used over the past century, from World War I to Iraq.
“The success rate in terms of achieving the foreign policy objective was less than a third of the cases,” said the author of “Economic Sanctions Reconsidered”.
“Most of the countries where there was success were smaller countries, weaker countries, not so much bigger countries as in the case of Russia,” Hufbauer said in an interview.
Economic pressure worked against countries like Panama, Peru or Sierra Leone, and helped topple dictators in some mid-sized countries like Brazil and South Korea.
They were also “made a contribution” to the end of the racist apartheid regime in South Africa, he said.
But Washington’s sanctions failed to prevent Pakistan from obtaining nuclear weapons.
And while US sanctions on China over the Korean war in the 1950s were economically and militarily painful, “China persisted” in supporting the North Koreans – as did the Soviet Union.
The one time Moscow did withdraw, from Afghanistan in the 1980s, “was not so much because of the sanctions” but due to US arming of Afghans, the loss of Russian forces and political turmoil at home, Hufbauer said.
‘Autocrat of autocrats’
“Sanctions do hurt economically, for sure, but hurting a country and its economy is not the same as changing the view of its political leaders,” Hufbauer said.
This was particularly the case for leaders with strong personal power, such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, who Hufbauer dubbed “the autocrat of autocrats”.
“Once you get a major country like Russia invading another country, it’s very difficult to get the leader of the aggressing country to change his mind,” he said, since it would be “a very big setback to him personally”.
Hufbauer recognised that the new sanctions on Russia were of “unprecedented strength”.
The US and Western allies have sought to cripple Russia’s banking sector and currency by cutting select banks from the SWIFT messaging system, rendering them isolated from the rest of the world, and prohibiting transactions with the central bank in Moscow.
This could reduce Russia’s income by as much as 10 percent – a “very big hit” – but this was unlikely to force a ceasefire.
“There is no real precedent for that,” Hufbauer said.
That is certainly the line from the Kremlin.
Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on Monday: “The Western sanctions on Russia are hard, but our country has the necessary potential to compensate the damage”.