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Clara Ferreira Marques

We’ll Need Sanctions and Stamina to Defeat Putin

The Kremlin’s war of conquest in Ukraine is in its fourth month. This is no time to let up the pressure.

Ports are backed up due to the conflict.

Ports are backed up due to the conflict.

Photographer: Andrei Pungovschi/Bloomberg

Economic sanctions have a bad reputation as a weapon that promises plenty — “something more tremendous than war,” as US President Woodrow Wilson put it in 1919 — but delivers comparatively little. Unprecedented measures aimed at isolating Russia have not stopped the fighting in Ukraine, or forced President Vladimir Putin out. The ruble has recovered and the cost of squeezing Moscow is rising. But that doesn’t mean sanctions aren’t working, much less that a solution that protects Ukraine’s interests and global security is possible without continued, and increasing, pressure.

It’s certainly the case that economic sanctions have a patchy record when it comes to altering behavior. Even the best-known efforts, like South Africa during apartheid, were not clear-cut successes. Cuba’s regime is still in place, as is Venezuela’s, and even more targeted sanctions, say against Myanmar’s junta, haven’t had the intended bite. Worse, the campaign to curb Saddam Hussein in Iraq showed just how difficult it is to punish dictators who are willing to let their population starve for the cause. This time, there’s also the fact that the target is one of the world’s largest hydrocarbon and grain exporters, meaning restrictions result in painfully higher prices for consumers elsewhere.