Putin faces serious sanctions, but will they work?

Osama al sharif
Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. (Photo: Jordan News)
While pundits on all sides will engage in a never-ending debate over who is to blame for igniting the biggest military conflict Europe has seen since World War II, the more pertinent question is: How and when will President Vladimir Putin’s war on neighboring Ukraine end? The West made it clear to Russia even before last week’s invasion that while it will not send troops to defend Ukraine, it will roll out a wide-ranging and unforgiving set of economic sanctions, the likes of which the world has never seen before.اضافة اعلان

Had Putin known that the US and its European allies would unleash such unprecedented economic and financial sanctions, would he have given the order to march into Ukraine? That we will not know anytime soon. But what is clear is that, aside from arming Kyiv with sophisticated weapons, the West appears to be determined to isolate the Russian leader politically and strangulate his country economically. By all accounts, this is a world war of a new kind.

The question, then, is: Will biting sanctions work and make Putin regret his decision to invade, or will his isolation push him to raise the ante and venture deeper into an adventure whose final outcome remains open to all possible scenarios, including an apocalyptic one?

The track record of economic sanctions is mixed at best. Most recently, there have been US sanctions against Iran and Venezuela. The sanctions had little or no effect on these two regimes’ political stance, And in both cases, the sanctions, serious as they are, were being applied by one country. Iran continues to sell its oil, albeit with difficulty, and is doing business with many countries in the region and beyond.

Iraq came under UN sanctions after its invasion of Kuwait in 1990. While millions of Iraqis suffered, the regime survived even after the bulk of its army was debilitated in the first Gulf War. Saddam Hussein’s survival under the sanctions irked president George W. Bush so much that he decided to invade Iraq under flimsy pretexts.

Iraq continues to struggle to this day as a result of the 2003 invasion.

While Putin is being made accountable for his invasion of Ukraine, no one dares to point the finger at the US and Britain for starting a war that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians and destroyed much of the country.

Syria, too, is under international sanctions following the bloody clampdown on a popular uprising in 2011. Yet, even though much of the country has been ravaged by war, and millions of Syrians became displaced or sought refuge outside Syria, the regime survived and is now coming out slowly from its regional isolation.

Historically, the small island nation of Cuba had endured decades of US sanctions and the Castro regime withstood many attempts by the CIA and Cuban exiles to topple or liquidate him. Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi’s regime also dealt with various sanctions and if it had not been for western military intervention in 2011, he have would probably been able to quash the popular uprising against his dictatorship.

North Korea’s regime has managed to stay intact despite western sanctions and, with China and Russia aiding it, appears to be emboldened by Putin’s latest move. Economic sanctions have failed to persuade its leader, Kim Jong-un, from suspending his dangerous nuclear program.

And lastly, there is Putin’s Russia itself, which came under a very diluted set of sanctions when the Kremlin unilaterally annexed Crimea in 2014. Russia’s economy faltered for a couple of years and then slowly recovered.

But nothing like what the West imposed on Russia this week has happened before. The sanctions aim at removing Russia completely from the global economic map. The enormity of the sanctions regime means that the rest of the world will be affected as well; Europe, in terms of crucial Russian energy supplies, as well as many countries dependent on Russia and Ukraine for essential grains like wheat, corn and barley, and countries that depend on Russia for sophisticated military hardware, to name a few.

The global supply chain will be further affected as well. European companies that did business in Russia will soon depart. The entire global financial system will be altered. Even the worlds of sports and culture will be affected.

Has Putin bitten more than he can chew? It is ordinary Russians who will suffer the most as the ruble tumbles and inflation spikes. Even if his forces take Kyiv and control most of the country, his occupation army will face a long and costly war of attrition. No economy in the world can handle multifaceted challenges internally and externally all at once. But Russia is a huge country, with ample resources and a few key allies, and it may still adapt to the economic shockwaves, at least initially. And even savvy China will be wary of doing business with a regime that has now become an international pariah.

What is clear, though, is that without a peaceful diplomatic solution the sanctions will remain and Russia’s isolation will increase. Does Putin have a suitable response to this new reality?

The writer is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

Read more Opinion and Analysis