US sanctions throughout history have not always had the best success rate and the current sanctions against Russia may backfire on the United States, causing more harm to global US interests than benefit.
Not only does the United States need to worry about the sanctions backfiring, the threat faced by other countries that have been involved with or that support the sanctions – such as Germany, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands – is also something the US needs to take more seriously into consideration.
Germany is the biggest European trading partner with Russia. It receives nearly 36% of its natural gas and almost 40% of its oil from Russia. Also, German Chancellor Angela Merkel made the decision in 2011 to move away from nuclear energy. Immediately after this decision was made eight nuclear plants were shut down, increasing Germany’s dependence on natural gas. As an ally of the United States, Germany could be placed in a tough situation if Russia decides to retaliate by decreasing or even stopping natural gas exports to Germany. While this may be unlikely at the present time due to Russia’s current economic and military intervention situation in Syria, when Russia eventually stabilizes its economy, and Russia will, it could enact its own energy deterrence against those who originally supported US sanctions.
Beginning in 2018, Russia will have an alternative market in China for its natural gas. In May 2014, Russia and China signed a $456 billion gas deal with Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom. This deal is a win for both China and Russia because China has secured natural gas from Russia for the next 30 years (which is desperately needs) and Russia can reduce its independence on European markets (which it vigorously wants). Russia can also use this deal to strengthen its position against the sanctions imposed by Western countries. Therefore, even though there is not an immediate threat of Russia retaliating against Germany by limiting its natural gas exports, it is a very real possibility that can logistically occur in just three years.
German businesses are also threatened by the sanctions against Russia because of the consequential dwindling economic relationship. There are approximately 6,200 German companies active in Russia, including giants like Siemens and Volkswagen. The Russian population has already begun boycotting American businesses because of the sanctions, so it is very possible that German companies could suffer the same fate. The sanctions are expected to cause a loss of at least 250,000 jobs in Germany as German-Russian exports collapse. More than 300,000 jobs in Germany are currently dependent on trade relations with Russia. Along with job loss, it is anticipated that Germany will lose over $10 billion in trade according to the Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations simply because of its agreement to support US sanctions.
The United Kingdom is also feeling the financial strain of sanctions on Russia. As the leading European global financial center, the United Kingdom has drawn in many Russian companies and individual investors over the past fifteen years. Since recovering from the Russian financial crisis of 1997-1998, Russian companies have been turning to the United Kingdom to invest in London’s booming residential property market and in British securities. The value of Russian international investments in London is substantial. It is estimated that the total value is £27 billion with nearly half of that raised between 2004 and 2012. The round of sanctions against Russia that focus exclusively on finance and investment could have a serious impact on the United Kingdom because of this Russian economic engagement.
British companies can also be negatively affected by Russian sanctions, especially within professional services and international arbitration. London-based lawyers and arbitration venues, such as the International Dispute Resolution Centre, have benefited greatly from being a favorite location for Russian businesses seeking to resolve commercial disputes over global assets. However, Russian companies which enter into arbitration proceedings in countries that imposed or supported the sanctions are often blacklisted from the Russian market. This will undoubtedly result in a significant weakening of British arbitration services. This is no small loss as approximately 75% of the world’s commercial dispute market involves Russian entities.
The Netherlands is another major trading partner of Russia. Rotterdam imports more Russian oil than any other nation in the world. Shell, a large Dutch oil company, has major investments in Russia so any energy deterrence Russia may impose on the Netherlands could have serious economic implications. Also, the Netherlands has nearly €37 billion worth of business linked to Russia. Dutch exports to Russia fell 35% in the first half of 2015 and as much as 50% in some areas. The most important Dutch exports to Russia are flowers and plants which, in 2013, made up a total export value of over €390 million. Dairy products make up the second most important Dutch export to Russia, valued at €301 million. Finally, vegetables and fruit are the third most important export to Russia with a value of €184 million. Because of the sanctions, Russia has boycotted vegetables, fruit, dairy products, meat, and fish from the Netherlands, meaning the country has a potential yearly loss of nearly 1 billion Euros.
Russia is now getting all of its ducks in a row to rebuild its economy, in spite of the sanctions, and will focus on building new strengths in Asia and the Middle East. Therefore the continuation of sanctions against Russia will likely not do anything that benefits the United States or its European allies, but rather just makes the United States look like a bully and bigger enemy of Russia. In the near future Russia will be taking steps to once again become a major player in the energy, securities, and trade markets, leaning on strong new partnerships with key players outside of Europe such as China and India. If the United States keeps isolating Russia from the West, it could indirectly cause major energy and security disruptions with some of its most trusted European allies. Therefore, the United States should reassess the efficacy of its current ‘sanctioning path’ with Russia and consider if new strategies might be more prudent. It isn’t so much about backing down as reducing unwanted collateral damage or incurring future blowback deterrence.