They have certainly weakened the Russian economy. But only the most optimistic believed that the sanctions would persuade Putin to change his mind and withdraw his army from Ukraine. Instead, the purpose of these sanctions should be to limit Russia’s ability to wage this war against Ukraine: to compel, not persuade, Putin to end the invasion of him. To date, there have been some successes, but the experience of the last six months also shows that much more remains to be done. We have several suggestions for action that we think are worth taking.
Specific export controls on sensitive technology have proven especially effective in limiting Russia’s ability to replenish precision weaponry. Over time, this disruption of sophisticated technological components, including first and foremost chips that Russia cannot manufacture, will weaken Moscow’s military capabilities.
Now, the democratic world must impose additional restrictions on the importation of technologies such as aircraft parts, sonar systems, antennas, spectrophotometers, test equipment, GPS systems, vacuum pumps, and oilfield equipment. Russia should be completely unable to obtain high-tech imports, as most technology is ultimately dual-use. Any technology that helps the Russian economy also helps Putin kill more Ukrainians.
In the long term, the exodus of tens of thousands of Russian high-tech workers caused by Putin’s war will also further diminish Russia’s military industrial base. Going forward, the West should do more to facilitate a massive Russian brain drain. Democratic countries should make it easier to accept tech-savvy Russian immigrants through a variety of residency and economic incentives. Europe and the United States should also facilitate the immigration of political and media opponents of the Putin regime, to help further divide Putin from the Russian people.
The sanctions have also disrupted foreign direct investment, causing shortages of food, medicine and materials. Surprisingly, approximately a thousand foreign companies have left Russia; most will never return. This not only affects the range of goods and services available; it will also decrease technology transfer and innovation in a wide range of industries across Russia, especially in the energy sector.
But more must be done. Democratic governments must put more pressure on their companies that have not yet left Russia. Foreign companies that aid Putin’s war machine, even by simply paying taxes, should also face sanctions. The international community should also force countries like Turkey, Georgia and Kazakhstan, which are currently helping to circumvent existing sanctions, to stop ongoing smuggling operations.
Sanctions on Russian individuals have produced real and lasting results. The lengths to which Russian oligarchs have gone to circumvent or get off the sanctions list suggests that the sanctions are working.
However, sanctions have yet to be imposed on thousands of Russian officials, party leaders, heads of regional governments, board members of Russian state-controlled companies, propagandists and celebrities who support the war. Time to add them to the list. People from third countries who help Putin, like former oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, the de facto ruler of Georgia, should know that they, too, will face sanctions unless they stop supporting Putin’s barbaric invasion. Any individual who supports Russia’s war in the Ukraine, however indirectly or passively, must pay a cost.
To date, sanctions have been ineffective in targeting Russia’s fossil fuel exports, the main source of revenue for Russia’s war effort against Ukraine. Tragically but predictably, Putin’s war dramatically boosted global energy prices, producing short-term windfall profits for the Kremlin. Western leaders also knowingly left loopholes in the sanctions regime so that governments and companies could continue to buy Russian energy. (For example, Gazprombank, a key financial institution for Russia’s state-controlled natural gas corporation, was left untouched.)
The good news here is that more is already planned. By the end of the year, the European Union plans to make drastic cuts in fossil fuel imports from Russia, and the Group of Seven aims to implement an innovative idea to cap the price of Russian oil exports around the world. The prospect of this price cap is already forcing Russia to sell oil at reduced prices. The leaders of democratic governments around the world must credibly signal their willingness to pressure their banks, insurers and shipping companies to enforce the price cap. Consumers living in the free world need to stop financing Putin’s war by buying Russian oil and gas.
Finally, democracies must signal their intention to maintain sanctions for as long as necessary to achieve three outcomes: Ukraine must regain all of its territory, including Crimea; Russia must pay war reparations to Ukraine in full; and Russian war criminals must be brought to justice. Free world leaders should avoid the temptation to offer partial sanctions relief for incremental changes in Russia’s war effort, and should never do anything about sanctions relief without the backing of the Ukrainian government.
Expanding and maintaining sanctions will be costly for the United States, Canada, and Europe. But this is the price we must pay for decades of not acting against Putin’s authoritarian and imperial ways. Fortunately, the nations of the free world pay this cost only with money; The Ukrainians are paying in blood.