Investigator: Russia sanctions only beginning to have an effect

Tarmo Maiberg and Tom Keatinge.
Tarmo Maiberg and Tom Keatinge. Source: Rauno Korju / ERR

Sanctions are long-term tools, as opposed to light switches to just turn off an economy, which is why their effect on Russia is only beginning to manifest, Tom Keatinge, director of the Center for Financial Crime and Security at the RUSI think tank, told ERR.

Keatinge was interviewed by ERR foreign affairs program Välisilm's host Tarmo Maiberg.

Maiberg asked Keatinge if sanctions actually worked.

"A lot of people ask that, and I have two answers. First, they didn't work, because the threat of sanctions was supposed to deter Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine, and that failed on February 24, 2022," Keatinge responded.

"However, sanctions are a long-term tool, you don't switch off an economy off overnight, and I think we can start to see evidence that sanctions are restricting the Russian economy, which is having to adapt in order to continue to fund and resource its military, so we I think can say they are beginning to work. Have they worked? No. Will they work? We hope so," he went on.

A major part of the issue in implementing sanctions, at least by the EU – the U.S. is more nimble at doing so, Keatinge said, while the ex-EU member state Britain is on the right track towards cleaning up the City of London in particular after the "London-grad" years – is fragmentation.

The EU is both monolithic and fragmented all at the same time, and decision making processes are slow, Keatinge went on.

"That's a really important point that the EU hasn't really got its arms around. It doesn't have the processes in place, the decision-making process is so slow and cumbersome, it can't be dynamic and agile – that is something the EU can learn from the US, which is very agile in the way it adapts its sanctions in response to the movement of the target."

Sanctions are also a marathon and not a sprint, he noted.

"The lesson is, sanctions are a marathon, and any politician who thinks that sanctions are going to change things overnight, should not be in the job that they have. We need to maintain our focus; in 2014, Europe let down the Ukrainian people, because it issued sanctions but then it just basically forgot about them. It didn't maintain the effectiveness of them."

"So we need to make sure we learn that lesson from the past, and we need to be constantly monitoring for where gaps are, and we need to have the tools available to plug those gaps within the sanctions regime," Keatinge went on.

Russia has not been sitting idly by while the sanctions have been issued; far from it.

"The most important thing to remember is that when the EU issues sanctions on Russia, Russia has the 'right' time and indeed will, react. It will change direction, it will shape-shift, and find alternative ways of circumventing the sanctions," Keatinge said.

Ultimately, sanctions are not a one-time event, and need to be seen more as a process.

"The mistake in my view that the EU makes is that it thinks of sanctions as one time only. We've issued the sanctions, the job is done. Issuing sanctions is just the beginning of the process. Once the sanctions are issued, you need to monitor what impact they have had, how is the target changing, and then you need to issue more sanctions, to ensure that as the target of the sanctions moves, you track the target with additional sanctions."

"We can't simply wait for a big grandstand new package, every one month, two months or three months. If we identify gaps, we need to close those gaps immediately," Keatinge added.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Marcus Turovski

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