The Cloud of Sanctions: Contending U.S.-Russian Approaches & Strategic Implications


Economic sanctions have been the defining feature of the relationship between Russia and the U.S. / EU since the 2014 Ukraine crisis, and both Moscow and Washington appear to accept that sanctions will remain in place indefinitely. This persistence of sanctions presents a paradox: Western policy makers have repeatedly increased the breadth and depth of these sanctions, despite little evidence that the sanctions have ‘worked’ to achieve their explicit and tangible objectives. This paper examines the nature and origin of this paradox using a multi-dimensional examination of Russian and US actions and discourse since the first imposition of Ukraine-related sanctions on Russia in March 2014. This analysis exposes fundamental differences over how the two sides perceive the appropriateness and strategic context of these sanctions, which reflect a basic difference in worldviews between Moscow and Washington. These contending worldviews potentially compound burdens of uncertainty and costly signaling in sanctions between the U.S. and Russia, which also introduces cross-domain risks that can defy efforts to fine-tune the imposition of costs. If not redressed, this dynamic can derail efforts at strategic reengagement, if not inadvertently elevate prospects for dangerous escalation.


sanctions; Russia; US; EU; discourse.

Authors: Adam N. Stulberg, Jonathan P. Darsey

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