Are the West’s Sanctions on Russia Working?

The question of whether sanctions have been an effective strategy is vastly more complicated than has been acknowledged, write Rawi Abdelal and Alexandra Vacroux in Just Money.

Russia invaded Ukraine, first in 2014 and then again in February 2022. The United States and Europe—the West—imposed waves of sanctions on Russian individuals, firms, and the country itself. Six months into the West’s efforts to isolate Russia, it is reasonable to ask if sanctions are working.

But this the wrong question. What does “working” mean here? To assess the effectiveness of sanctions, we need to understand first what they were meant to accomplish—and then evaluate whether they have accomplished these goals, at least better than the available alternatives.

Sanctions are an instrument of statecraft like any other. They exist on a continuum of disciplinary tools that range from expressing displeasure in private conversations to wiping out possessions or populations. Sanctions are used when diplomacy—talking—is not enough but military engagement—shooting—is not (yet) an option.

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The full text of this article is available via Just Money. 

Herbert F. Johnson Professor of International Management, Harvard Business School

Rawi Abdelal is the Herbert F. Johnson Professor of International Management at Harvard Business School.

Executive Director, Davis Center

Alexandra Vacroux is the Davis Center's executive director, overseeing graduate studies and other initiatives while doing scholarly work on various policy issues.