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Testimony: Raising the Domestic Political Costs of Vladimir Putin’s Policies

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Thank you Chairman Crapo, Ranking Member Brown, and Members of the Committee:

Before we discuss and evaluate specific measures, I think it might be helpful to begin by placing the sanctions on Vladimir Putin’s regime (which is not to be equated with Russia or the Russian people!) in a larger context.

Why are sanctions, like those on Russia, imposed on countries? Essentially to exact domestic political costs on a country’s foreign policy.

If that is the main purpose, there are two distinctions that need to be made in evaluating the impact of sanctions. One is short-term vs. medium- and long-term effects. And the other, more important distinction, is the difference between economic effects and political effectiveness. The former are relatively easy to achieve, especially when the disparity between the respective economies is as great as it is between the United States and Russia today. But the latter purpose, to change the policies of the sanctioned regime, is almost never achieved in the short term and has not been especially successful in the medium term either.

This has been the case almost everywhere and at all times. One reason is the hope that the sanctions will be lifted or at least lightened. Secondly, and most importantly, authoritarian regimes, even the seemingly stable ones, carry on what Churchill called the fight of bulldogs under the carpet. A quick retreat could lead to a hemorrhaging and eventually loss of the leader’s power, which could be accompanied by the loss of one’s life as well. Hence, defiance is almost always the first reaction.

Read the full testimony.

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