Sanctions are a central element of U.S. policy to counter and deter malign Russian behavior. The United States has imposed sanctions on Russia mainly in response to Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine, to reverse and deter further Russian aggression in Ukraine, and to deter Russian aggression against other countries. The United States also has imposed sanctions on Russia in response to (and to deter) election interference and other malicious cyber-enabled activities, human rights abuses, the use of a chemical weapon, weapons proliferation, illicit trade with North Korea, and support to Syria and Venezuela.
Most Members of Congress support a robust use of sanctions amid concerns about Russia’s international behavior and geostrategic intentions. The United States established sanctions related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine largely in coordination with the European Union (EU).
Since 2017, the efforts of Congress and the Trump Administration to tighten sanctions on Russia have prompted some concern in the EU about U.S. commitment to sanctions coordination and U.S.-EU cooperation on Russia and Ukraine more broadly. Many in the EU oppose the United States’ use of secondary sanctions, including sanctions aimed at curbing Russian energy export pipelines to Europe, such as Nord Stream 2.
In terms of economic impact, studies suggest that sanctions have had a negative but relatively modest impact on Russia’s growth. Changes in world oil prices have had a much greater impact on the Russian economy. After oil prices rose in 2016, Russia’s economy began to strengthen even as sanctions remained in place and, in some instances, were tightened. The Obama Administration and the EU designed sanctions related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in part, to impose longer-term pressures on Russia’s economy while minimizing collateral damage to the Russian people and to the economic interests of the countries imposing sanctions.
Debates about the effectiveness of sanctions against Russia continue in Congress, in the Administration, and among other stakeholders. Russia has not reversed its occupation and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region, nor has it stopped sustaining separatist regimes in eastern Ukraine. In 2018, it extended its military operations against Ukraine to nearby waters. At the same time, Russia has not expanded its land-based operations in Ukraine, and Moscow participates in a conflict resolution process that formally recognizes Ukraine’s sovereignty over Russia-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine. With respect to other malign activities, the relationship between sanctions and changes in Russian behavior is difficult to determine. Nonetheless, many observers argue that sanctions help restrain Russia or that their imposition is an appropriate foreign policy response regardless of immediate effect. Purchase this volume.