Are Sanctions Making Russia Stronger?
The US and many European countries have placed sanctions on Russia in response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. However, the current sanctions on Russia may actually be increasing group solidarity, the cohesiveness of the Russian population. By increasing group solidarity, sanctions on Russia are actually having unintended consequences.
According to the Pew Research Center, Russians have record high confidence in President Putin’s ability to handle international affairs, while the Russian population’s view of foreign world leaders has plummeted. There are several possible reasons for this. One possible reason is that the state-run news media in Russia may broadcast international events in a way that favors Putin and the Russian government. Another possible reason is that the Russian government has been promoting a narrative that says that the west is trying to hurt Russia.
In light of the Russian government’s narrative, sanctions may be perceived simply as a way to hurt Russia and not as a way to force Russia to move troops out of Ukraine. When the narratives of the state-run news media and Russian sanctions are combined, this results in the Russian population displaying more support for their leaders and less support for foreign world leaders. Therein solidarity is displayed. Why would I support someone that wants to harm my country? This is the question members of the Russian population are forced to ask when they are convinced by the Russian government’s narrative and see that European countries and the US placed sanctions on Russia which in turn hurt the Russian economy.
Due to the group solidarity created by sanctions and the Kremlin’s narrative, Putin may not succumb to the pressures of sanctions. This is what we have seen thus far. So far the sanctions have increased political support for Putin. Sure 73% of Russians say the economy is in poor shape, but Putin’s approval rating is 82%. His approval rating even increased during the Ukraine crisis and sanctions have failed to bring his approval rating below 80%. So sanctions are not really placing pressure on Putin. In fact, withdrawing troops from Ukraine may hurt his approval rating since it could be seen as succumbing to the wills of the nations that are trying to hurt Russia. If Putin wants to be elected, and what politician doesn’t want to be elected, then he doesn’t need to change anything he’s doing. This is true as long as solidarity in Russia is high.
As long as solidarity in Russia increases, the use of sanctions on Russia will be largely ineffective. The only way for sanctions to become effective would be for the Russian population to understand or believe that the Russian government is lying about the motives and actions of the US and other nations. This would lead to the Russian population no longer supporting President Putin.
Image: War in Donbass, By ВО «Свобода» [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons, https://picasaweb.google.com/102652274152528116947/12062014#6024400883891185522