Did the Western sanctions on Russia have an effect on Putin’s policies?

Weakening Putin is an auxiliary objective of the Western sanctions. Creating a cumulative incentive to get rid him to his circle, as well as collecting trading cards for the day when normalization talks start is more important.

Western sanctions applied to targeted industries and persons in Putin’s circle have so far produced zero effect. So far, the sanctions only changed him for worse. He became more obstinate.

Bear in mind that none of the Western sanctions have targeted Putin, his assets or his closest family. Putin himself is the last name on the list of targeted individuals, for two reasons.

  • Putin is not an enemy of the West. He’s just a recalcitrant player, elbowing his way to a better place at the global table of power. No need to antagonize him more than necessary.
  • Hitting Putin directly would be the most painful of sanctions. Good players keep the strongest card to play it last.

Consider this example. According to a report, Putin’s decision to mess up the 2016 electoral campaign in the US was triggered by the Panama Papers revelations about his personal friend stashing for him 2 billion USD in an offshore fund. The uproar was about mere revealing of the fact. Imagine what kind of hullabaloo would have happened if Putin’s money were actually frozen or confiscated.

The greatest threat to Putin and his family are not Western politicians. It’s rich and powerful vultures that will go after them and his assets the moment he loses power. He knows he made a lot of powerful enemies along the way, but not always who they are, or how they can hit back. This is why the fall of Qaddafi made such an impact on him.

The pressure on Putin’s circle is more important than on himself. Behind the scenes, it can be scaled down by allowing or rejecting visas to them and their families, disrupting their business deals in the West, harassing their point men. The message sent would be “Staying close to the boss is your liability, not an assets–as long as he’s messing up the Eastern Ukraine.”

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