Sanctioning Russia could embolden Moscow into pursuing economic independence

By Tarik Mert

THE WEST’S reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – much to the chagrin of Vladimir Putin – has been powerful, stiff, and persistent. 

Far-reaching sanctions have been implemented to hit Russia, not only the country’s economy, but its total existence. 

As the economic sanctions made a catastrophic impact on the Russian economy, Russian culture and sport suffered similar sanctions designed to cut Russia off from the rest of the world. 

The problem of whether all these sanctions are just and well-calculated aside, an upshot for the future world is perilously real: the re-emergence of the iron curtain.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia had forged acceptably substantial ties with the Western World, which involved all areas from economic to cultural. 

EBRD (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development) financed numerous investments in Russia, whose total costs have reached $25 billion. Unrestricted travel between Russia and Europe augmented the cultural permeability, rapidly developing social networks created a common ground for mutual understanding, while Russian presence on important political stages such as the European parliament eased the diplomatic relations between the two former adversaries.

Meanwhile, exchange agreements between Russian universities and their European counterparts led the emergence of cosmopolitan intellectuals informed of both cultures. 

Therefore, two camps, virtually unknown to each other during the long 20th century, started to live in ‘one world’ despite occasional political conflicts. Now, the ‘one world’ that witnessed a period of unprecedented interaction broke down with a new era bringing opacity and impermeability back in.

Isolating Russia leads to the diminution of cultural permeability and common cultural space. 

Those who decide fusillade-like sanctions ought to consider this cultural cost. Pursuing isolation politics, through reckless and meaningless sanctions, rules out channels of cultural interaction hardly established in the last three decades. 

Achievements of this relatively short period of time ought not to be put at risk. It is evident that younger generations, so-called Generation P, who grew during this period are inclined to adhere to liberal values and accompanying ideas. 

Perpetrators behind the Putin dictatorship are not them, but mostly their fathers and grandfathers. 

So, punishing these youngsters by leaving them deprived of blessings of Western culture and markets is unfair and likely to ignite resentment among them. This resentment and disconnectedness only help to the continuance of the anti-Western Russian elite in the future. There are legitimate causes to think that Putin and his nomenklatura had this in mind. 

After all, the westernisation of the Russian youth is not in their best interests, and this moment prepared the suitable ground for a crackdown on social networks, as well as on independent media outlets in Russia.

There are also prospective costs related to exclusion of Russia from the global economy. Putin’s government has been already conducting an import substitution policy, enacted in the aftermath of the sanctions on Russia after the annexation of Crimea in 2014. 

As of now, it cannot be said that the program has achieved its primary goal, namely reducing the country’s dependence on foreign goods and services. 

Although the country secured relative independence in the agriculture sector, crucial fields such as IT and machinery are still heavily dependent on imports. [3] 

In other words, what still keeps Russian technology alive is no other than Western-made software and equipment, meaning that Russia is not powerful on its own

Sanctions, however, bring the risk to make Russia powerful by prompting it to devote itself entirely to the development of national hi-tech. International technology firms continue to halt their operations in Russia, exports of high-technology products to Russia have been subject to suspension. These are all moves that could whip up Russian efforts to have a high-tech of its own. 

The free world should be far too experienced to know that it cannot let Russia secure economic independence. Nor should it engage efforts that might whip up Russian endeavor.

Lastly, enfeebling diplomatic ties with Russia escalates the risk of nuclear confrontation. During the Cold War, the world has come to the verge of nuclear devastation multiple times and some of these incidents were due to the paucity of diplomatic communication that would inform the camps about their reciprocal intentions. 

The incident of Able Archer 83 is the best example. Given that, the retaliations that have detached Russia from international organizations such as European Parliament jeopardize global security by dissolving channels of communication.

It is a pitfall to assess that Russia is rightfully punished with these sanctions.

Conversely, these mainly symbolic sanctions bring about more risk than benefit.

Tarik Mert is a senior student at the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Bogaziçi University.

Featured Image: Pixabay

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