Any Increase in Western Sanctions on Russia will Only Make It Easier for Kremlin to Repress Its People, Inozemtsev Says

Truck at Russian Border Crossing

(Paul Goble – Window On Eurasia – Staunton, Feb. 13, 2021)

One of the paradoxes of relations between Russia and the West is that when Russian actions at home or abroad prompt Western governments to react by seeking to impose penalties on Moscow, those penalties only make it easier for the Kremlin to repress its population at home, Vladislav Inozemtsev says.

Indeed, the Russian commentator says, “history of the last half century shows that periods of the sharpening of relations between the Soviet Union/Russia [and the West] were never times of internal liberalization with us.” Instead, liberalization happened inside the country when relations warmed (

That means that if the West wants to promote positive changes within Russia, it must do exactly the opposite of what feels natural when Moscow commits some outrage, the commentator says. “A country which imagines the West is its enemy is one it which it is much simpler to suppress protest actions than one which considers itself part of the Western world.”

“More than that,” he continues, “it is easy to see in recent years that a significant part of the economic problems in the country is explained by Russian leaders by references to external pressure, sanctions, and other factors not dependent on their will – and the banal restoration of normal relations will bring the Kremlin more problems than profits.”

According to Inozemtsev, “the Russian economy today suffers not from sanctions or from a shortage of foreign investment. It cannot grow as a result of the policy of its own powers which involve constantly increasing taxes, corruption, regulation of business and the constant threat to entrepreneurs from the siloviki.”

Any intensification of sanctions only gives those in power in Moscow yet another means to distract attention from this critical reality. By its sanctions, the West is Athus helping the Russian regime rather than promoting the changes within it that the West hopes for, the economist says.

There is an increasing appreciation of this reality in Western capitals, Inozemtsev suggests; but that is only one of the reasons why any rapid ramp up in the sanctions regime against Moscow in the wake of the imprisonment of Aleksey Navalny is far less likely than many now assume.

First of all, he argues, past sanctions have not had the impact many in the West expected. Indeed, they have been counterproductive. And that has contributed to a certain “sanctions fatigue” among Western leaders and populations.

Second, Western leaders and commentators are increasingly insisting that a distinction be made between offensive actions by Moscow that affect Western security and those which merely irritate them by their violation of Western values. Thus, sanctions in the future are more likely when Russian actions directly touch the national security of Western countries.

Third, the West has and is increasingly focused on “other instruments of influence which may look sufficient” such as Magnitsky List arrangements that continue to operate but do not provide the kind of occasion for talk about the need for sanctions. Indeed, these other means reduce the likelihood of such discussions.

And fourth, and in another paradox, as a consensus has emerged in Western countries about Russian policies, there is less reason for political leaders to use talk about sanctioning Moscow because such talk does not play into their domestic political struggles. Indeed, it may not help those who engage in it at all.

In sum, Inozemtsev says, the current situation between Moscow and the West, one in which there has been “a routinization” of sanctions, is thus one which, however much they would like, the domestic opponents of Putin are not in a position to change. Indeed, to the extent, the opposition calls for sanctions against Russia, the easier things are for the Kremlin.

“In authoritarian countries, the powers that be have been able to seize the initiative by succeeding in presenting those who disagree with them as ‘Western agents,’ as people not so much seeking to modernize the political system of their countries as people fulfilling the orders of hostile powers and thus undermining the sovereignty of their own.”

Such rhetoric is effective and not just with the less educated strata of the population, as many imagine, the economist suggests. “Talk from a position of strength which is the basis of any sanctions policy is quite negatively received by a significant part of the population of any country” who thus are prepared to throw in their lot with their own authoritarian rulers.

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