The Russian economy has apparently resisted the ‘sanctions from hell’ which were supposed to lead to an economic collapse. This has left a lot of economists and politicians perplexed. But it is no mystery. Sanctions hurt, but they also create opportunities, particularly in big and relatively advanced countries as Russia. The reason it is so difficult for many economists to understand is that they have enclosed themselves in a narrow neoliberal universe. What is happening in Russia has an important message for developing countries.
In the UN, Russia has been condemned for its war in Ukraine by an overwhelming majority of nations. Despite this, very few countries outside NATO+ are joining the sanctions against Russia. How come that the Global South is unwilling to support the sanctions? And will it be possible for the US to twist the arms of these unwilling countries to get them to align?
It looks as if sanctions haven’t had the expected disastrous consequences for Russia compared to say Iran, Venezuela and Cuba, at least in the short term. But what about the longer perspective? Will the Russian economy implode or stagnate? Or will it be able to survive and perhaps even prosper? History tells us that both scenarios are possible and that the outcome to a high degree depends on how well the situation is managed and the legitimacy of the political leadership.
Sanctions are increasingly being used by Western countries. This is so despite that most studies show that they fail to achieve their stated goals, cause enormous human suffering in the targeted countries and create problems for the Western Countries themselves. The wave of refugees from Syria is an example. The sanctions against Afghanistan will no doubt create a new wave. Welcome to Foreign Policy 2.0.
The management of the Venezuelan economy has been surprisingly incompetent and disastrous, despite sitting on the world's biggest oil reserves. Sanctions and embargo against Venezuela have accelerated the decline, with inflation bordering on hyperinflation, a collapsing economy and mass migration. There is much to dislike in the Venezuelan Government and its policy, and by the way in the opposition, too. But sanctions and embargo is the wrong policy, causing further suffering for the Venezuelan people. Recognizing a self-proclaimed president and supporting a bogus uprising is converting it into a farce. It is old US policy to treat its foes like this. But what the EU is doing, supporting this, is very difficult to understand. Now the Europeans can no longer just blame the Venezuelan Government. They have decided to take on shared responsibility for the suffering of the Venezuelan people.
The short answer is yes, very much so. And much more than it will hurt the EU or the US. Post-Soviet Russia is mainly a producer and exporter of oil, gas and raw materials. Just as Canada, Australia, Brazil, Chile and Venezuela. It has gone through a de-industrialisation after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and is now heavily dependent on imports of almost everything. It is the world sixth biggest economy, but it is too small to survive isolated. So sanctions will hurt a lot. But they may also have unintended consequences. Some of them could actually be quite interesting.