Economic sanctions against Russia: civilians caught in the crossfire

Western powers are punitively manufacturing a disaster in the Russian economy. What about disaster risk reduction (DRR) considerations for Russian civilians?

Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many western nations have implemented ‘unprecedented’ economic sanctions — rendering Russia the most sanctioned country in the world. The aim: an economic squeeze so great it coerces President Vladimir Putin to abandon the invasion.

People by a currency exchange office in St. Petersburg, Russia. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky).

Russian banks teetering on collapse, the plummeting rouble, seizure of oligarchs’ yachts, and the eviction of Russian vodka from supermarket shelves. Tanking the Russian economy has become a frenzied spectacle in Western media.

Indeed, economic sanctions will impact Putin’s ability to fund the invasion — and are certainly more palatable than triggering conventional war or nuclear escalation. But, in ‘hobbling’ the Russian economy with such ‘economic weapons’, the West must also render Russian civilians collateral damage.

By nature, economic sanctions approach Russia as a monolith. Much like certain military weapons, economic sanctions are indiscriminate in the pain they inflict. The culpable and the innocent are punished.

For many Russians, who have endured years of austerity, this may evolve into one of the worst economic crises they have seen. Immiseration will be painful, and, for some, potentially lethal.

Iraq, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, North Korea, Venezuela. The world has witnessed the humanitarian impacts of sharp economic decline. And yet, the success of sanctions against target regimes remains dubious.

What if sanctions do not coax Putin to back down? Are we expecting them to rile up a nation — deprived of free press and the right to protest — to oust their repressive leader?

DRR requires us to think ahead, comprehend potential humanitarian disasters, and consider how actions exaggerate human vulnerabilities. And, ultimately, to stop them from happening.

Economic war is war. It will have its casualties.

The world must continue to seek justice for the Ukrainian people. At the same time, we must not take lightly the deliberate immiseration thrust upon millions of Russians. They are also Putin’s victims.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Ella Gerry

Ella Gerry

Current MSc Risk, Disaster and Reduction student at UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction.