The Dark Side of Russian Sanctions: Lessons to Learn


Co-authored by William Witenberg a contemporary artist focused on abstract painting While the impact of western sanctions on Russia has been well documented, little mention has been made of the effects of the Russian embargo on western agricultural products. Russia in response to the sanctions has declared an embargo on agricultural products ranging from milk to beef. Radio Sweden has called this the worse agricultural crises in 40 years. Swedish and Danish farmers are facing bankruptcy if this continues much longer. German cheese is at lowest prices levels since 2009. The decline in the Chinese demand for Europe's products is adding fuel to the fire. While the drop in oil prices is adding to the pain of sanctions in Russia, the declining Yuan and Chinese economic slow down contributes to the crisis for the agricultural producers in Europe. Naturally there were illegal imports of agricultural products into Russia, and as a result President Putin on July 29th issued a decree that ordered destruction of illegally imported food. Oddly, the destruction of illegally imported food appears to be viewed by Russians as though the country is so strong on the agricultural front it can afford to destroy it's food.

This situation demonstrates both how harmful sanctions are and how little impact on Russian policy they seem to have. Why should a farmer in Sweden be adversely affected because the West is opposed to the way Russia is acting in the Ukraine? Sanctions, if there is a case for them, must be of the sort that will change behavior. This does not seem to be the case. Can anyone argue that Russia has changed its policy because of sanctions?

It is not surprising that if the West imposes sanctions on Russia, Putin's government inturn imposes embargos on the West. It would seem that sanctions simply are not working and should be reconsidered. The West has had sanctions on Iran for decades and did they affect Iran's behavior? Has Iran been any less of a terror sponsor? Now the west has negotiated with Iran to supposedly stop its nuclear development in exchange for dropping sanctions. While the wisdom of the Iran nuclear deal is arguable; it's purpose is clear - sanctions against Iran were meant to stop it from sponsoring terrorism. That clearly did not work, and some argue after the nuclear deal Iran will have more resources to spend in support of terrorist activity. Is the West likely to keep its sanctions on Russia long enough to get Russia to return Crimea or withdraw it's support of eastern Ukraine. It is hard to imagine that.

The lesson of sanctions to date is that they simply don't work and harm unintended victims. Certainly the consequences to the agricultural industry in Europe cannot be viewed in any other light.