elerian150_Marijan Muratpicture alliance via Getty Images_europegas Marijan Murat/picture alliance via Getty Images

The Problem with the Current Russia Sanctions Regime

There is much debate about the effectiveness of Western sanctions, the Ukraine war’s implications for markets and the global economy, and what the West’s next steps should be. While there are few good options, some are clearly worse than others.

CAMBRIDGE – It has been five months since Europe and the United States imposed tough economic and financial sanctions on Russia, a G20 country that was the world’s eleventh-largest economy on the eve of its invasion of Ukraine. While the sanctions have been gradually strengthened in the intervening months, debate rages about their effectiveness, the war’s broader implications for markets and the global economy, and what the West’s next steps should be.

On the first question, although the sanctions have been less effective than Europe and the US had hoped, they also are proving more onerous than the Kremlin claims. Russia’s central bank expects GDP to contract by 8-10% this year, while other forecasters expect a larger fall, together with longer-lasting damage to growth potential. Imports and exports have been severely disrupted, and inflows of foreign investment have essentially stopped. Shortages are multiplying, pushing inflation higher. At this point, the country no longer has a properly functioning foreign-exchange market.

The sanctions would have bitten much harder had the West not opted for a carve-out of Russia’s energy sector, and had many more countries joined the US and Europe in the effort. Because that didn’t happen, Russia has not felt nearly as much pressure as it would have. Moreover, it has been able to continue trading through various side and back doors that will likely become increasingly important as long as the sanctions regime, as currently designed, continues.

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