It’s hard to recall a day since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine when there was no mentioning about new sanctions being imposed against Russia. On May 9th, the EU announced that it had almost finished preparations for the sixth package of sanctions, and rumors on the Internet are already mentioning the seventh.
What are sanctions?
In brief, sanctions are a list of political and economic decisions applied by states and organizations in order to protect national interests, international law, and defense from threats to international peace and security. As a rule, they are temporary and are removed when the cause/threat has been eliminated.
According to the EU’s official website, “Restrictive measures (sanctions) are an essential tool in the EU’s common foreign and security policy (CFSP), through which the EU can intervene where necessary to prevent conflict or respond to emerging or current crises. In spite of their colloquial name ‘sanctions’, EU restrictive measures are not punitive. They are intended to bring about a change in policy or activity by targeting non-EU countries, as well as entities and individuals, responsible for the malign behaviour at stake.”
How many sanctions have been imposed against Russia in total?
On May 8th, the Chairman of the State Duma of the Russian Federation Vyacheslav Volodin shared a post on his Telegram channel that “10 128 sanctions have been imposed against our country. More than against any other state in the entire history of their existence.” From this number, 2,754 were introduced in the period from 2014 (the Crimean issue) and before the beginning of the special operation in Ukraine. The rest – more than seven thousand – were introduced in a short three-month period. According to The Castellum.AI, a service which takes a record of sanctions and updates weekly, as of May 9, their number has already exceeded 7,600, making Russia the state with the largest number of sanctions imposed. For comparison: 3,161 sanctions have been imposed against Iran, 2,608 – against Syria, and 2,077 – against North Korea. Other states can “boast” with the list containing less than 1,000 sanctions. Thus, in a short period of time, Russia not only got on the list of sanctioned countries, but also topped it.
The sanctions have affected almost every sector of Russia – from individuals, which list already counts numbers in the hundreds, to the spheres of energy, economy, trade… The enumeration can go on for a long time. It can be said that there is practically not a single area left that wasn’t affected by sanctions: for example, one of the articles published by the Atlantic Council had the heading “What’s left to sanction in Russia?” And yet, at almost all the examples given, it is mentioned that sanctions have already been imposed in this area.
So is there anything else that can be included in the sanctions lists? The question itself is good, but alas – it will take quite a long time to search for the answer: sanctions are already everywhere.
So is there any point in sanctions?
This is quite an interesting question, although in this situation it would be more accurate to say that sanctions have not only a point, but also consequences.
As it was mentioned above, sanctions are usually temporary, but Russia has been living with almost 3,000 sanctions imposed against it for more than 8 years. Has it brought any tangible results in influencing Russia? No. Have those who introduced them achieved the result what they had introduced those sanctions for? No. Have these sanctions been lifted? No. Therefore, is there any point in imposing them on Russia? The answer is still the same – no, because as it can be observed, these sanctions are in the list of existing ones, and Russia still continues to exist, quite successfully adapting to them. And there are a lot of sanctions – 2,754 (for the period before the Ukrainian issue), but the thing is that the country against which they were introduced does not complain about its size and capabilities either.
There is a point in sanctions, and first of all – for Russia.
Following numerous bans on the export of various kinds of products, as well as the departure of many companies operating in various fields, the Russian government introduced a number of measures to support different areas, and which have already started to show positive results. According to Rosstat, several sectors of the Russian economy showed positive dynamics as soon as measures were introduced (compare to the same period of 2021): the mining industry grew by 7.8%, energy, heat and gas supply – by 1.5%, water supply and waste disposal – by 7.2%. There is also an increase in the food sector – by 1.1%, and medical production increased by as much as 46.8% compared to March 2021, and turned out to be 9.1% higher than in February 2022. As Rosstat data shows, according to a preliminary estimate of the country’s GDP for the 1st quarter 2022, there is a positive growth of 103.5% compared to the same period last year. The Economist noted that “as imports slide and exports hold up, Russia is running a record trade surplus.” The Institute of International Finance estimates that “in 2022 the current-account surplus, which includes trade and some financial flows, could come in at $250bn (15% of last year’s gdp), more than double the $120bn recorded in 2021”. As a result, the world sees that rather than damaging Russia, sanctions are contributing to its strengthening. 
The consequences of the sanctions, however, were faced not only by Russia and Belarus (which also got quite an amount of them because of good relations with Russia), but also by the rest of the world, including even the part that had nothing to do with this issue. And the consequences of those 7 thousand+ recently imposed sanctions are especially severe.
Some countries are already complaining about food shortages, as their supplies have been seriously reduced due to sanctions. People are dissatisfied with the increase of prices for various products and goods, but this is caused by the increase of fuel prices – which people are also dissatisfied with. Shocks and turmoil in the social and economic sectors started to affect the political situation both within countries and their international policies, as they have to choose whether to join the sanctions or try to stay away.
Even at the first weeks of the conflict, the United States were seen trying to put pressure on states to either join the sort of “sanctions coalition” or stay away, preventing any attempts to help Russia. As it turned out, one of these countries was China: back in April 2022, the US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said that the sanctions imposed against Russia should give China (and President Xi personally) an idea of the consequences that it could face in case of providing assistance to Russia: “<it> gives President Xi, I think, a pretty good understanding of what might come his way should he, in fact, support Putin in any material fashion.” If there was an attempt to put pressure on China, which is far from being the last figure in the international arena, then what can be said about other states – especially European ones?
Hungary is now becoming one of the stumbling blocks, as it refuses to support sanctions with regard to the embargo on fuel imports. According to Prime Minister Viktor Orban, it will be equal to an atomic bomb dropped on the Hungarian economy, since it simply will not have time to adapt – it will take at least five years and a large number of investments. Nevertheless, he noted that Hungary is ready for negotiations – if the proposals are consistent with the interests of the state. However, according to information, a video conference between Ursula von der Leyen and Viktor Orban, held on Monday last week, did not lead to a compromise, thus delaying the adoption of the sixth – the heaviest, according to EU representatives – package of sanctions. Against this background, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki expressed the opinion that the sixth package of sanctions could be adopted in a reduced form, since “we must observe unity in the EU.”
So…what can be expected in the future?