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Regular version of the site

Article

Unilateral sanctions in a multipolar world: Challenges and opportunities for Russia's strategy

Russia in Global Affairs. 2019. Vol. 17. No. 3. P. 109-131.

In the 1990s-2000s unilateral sanctions were viewed primarily as a reactive, often tactical, policy tool applied to weaker countries, or as an auxiliary strategic instrument (greatly inferior in importance to military-political ones). But today the status of sanctions has risen significantly. From a formal point of view, they are still ineffective since in most cases they do not lead to the achievement of declared political goals. However, in the past two to three years sectoral sanctions against Iranian and Russian companies and their partners, and technological ones against China (in addition to the trade war) have been expanded, which increasingly turns them from a “noisy” but ineffective tactical instrument into one of the pillars of strategic deterrence. This article examines three interrelated developments that have occurred in recent years: unilateral sanctions as such, their effects, both direct and concomitant (collateral damage), and, finally, reactions to them. Our analysis suggests that formal and informal unilateral sanctions will be intensified both in the short term and in the medium term of three to five years. However, within the next ten to fifteen years, as the international political and economic system becomes increasingly mosaicked, even their immediate effects and consequently their importance will be smoothed over, while the cost of international cooperation will increase. In other words, sanctions will become less ruinous, but fostering “fortress to fortress” bonds will become significantly more expensive and will require large investments in “building trust” with new partners. For Russia, this means transforming the strategy of survival under sanctions, launched five years ago, into a strategy of development under sanctions.