Written by Christian Stellakis, Global Economic Intersection Associate
An executive order initiating sanctions against 11 high-ranking Russian and Ukrainian officials was signed into law by President Obama this Monday. These sanctions, which include asset freezes and travel bans to the United States, target the individuals who played a critical role in Russia’s continued occupation of Crimea. The President’s executive order mirrored the actions of the EU, which recently leveled similar sanctions against 21 key Russian and Ukrainian officials. The economic sanctions are meant to dissuade Russia from taking further action against Ukrainian sovereignty and pressure Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, into relinquishing control of Crimea.
The sanctions represent the most substantial international effort taken against Russia since the end of the Cold War. Nevertheless, they have failed to prevent the Russian government from exerting their influence over the Crimean Peninsula. Following a nearly unanimous vote by the Crimean people to secede from Ukraine, Putin defiantly declared Crimea a part of the Russian state. In a speech to an exuberant Russian crowd, Putin proclaimed,
“Crimea is our commonwealth but under the strong and stable sovereignty which today in fact can be only Russian.”
The United States and international community refuse to recognize the Crimean annexation and instead threaten that continued Russian interference within Ukraine will only result in further sanctions. President Obama, in a televised address, reaffirmed the United States’ support for Ukraine:
“The United States stands with the people of Ukraine and their right to determine their own destiny.”
He also stressed that the Russian economy will suffer increasingly punitive consequences unless Russia ceases its violation of international law. The escalating threats and rhetoric have accomplished little in deterring Russia from its current course of action. Likewise, penalties already in place have been completely ineffective. Targeting only a select few individuals, the sanctions do not have the power to significantly damage the Russian economy. Instead, the US and EU sanctions are likely being used as a tool of persuasion, squeezing the most influential Russian officials to get them to relent.
Putin, perhaps the most influential individual in Russian international relations, has yet to become a target of economic sanctions. His administration remains resolute in its defiance of the West. Despite the growing international pressure, Russia has shown no indication that it will heed the demands of the international community. For Putin, the situation in Crimea is already settled. When addressing the Crimean people, Putin was unequivocal: “It is you who have resolved the fate of Crimea.”