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TRUE OR FAKE. Are the economic sanctions against Russia really the strongest ever taken against a state?

Has Russia been punished more severely than any other country in response to its invasion of Ukraine? At least that’s what the French government claims. We have taken massive, historic, unprecedented sanctions.said his spokesman, Gabriel Attal, March 8 at France Inter“We have enacted a series of sanctions which, I remind you, are the most powerful ever decided against any other state”added the Minister of Economy, Bruno Le Maire, Wednesday 30 March on Europe 1

Even before the Russian offensive in Ukraine began, the international community took action against the Kremlin, especially financially. New retaliatory measures were taken this week (to be ratified by European foreign ministers on Monday 11 April) in response to abuses discovered in Boutcha in particular. However, are these sanctions really unprecedented?

International sanctions against Russia began as early as 2014, in response to the annexation of Crimea, such as the European Council reminds us of this in chronology decisions made by the Twenty-seven. New measures were taken in retaliation for Vladimir Putin’s recognition of the independence of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions on February 21, three days before the Kremlin captain ordered his army to invade Ukraine. Since then, the European Union has adopted five sets of sanctions: measures targeting individuals and companies, economic and also diplomatic sanctions.

On an individual level, “877 persons and 62 entities are subject to an asset freeze and a ban on entry into EU territory”does the European Council count† This one list of individuals including the Russian president himself, his head of diplomacy, Sergei Lavrov, but also Russian deputies and high officials, or businessmen, such as Roman Abramovich. Both the United States and the United Kingdom have also hit the pockets of oligarchs and personalities close to Russian power.

On the economic front, international sanctions have been even tougher, with the aim of hampering the Russian economy. The financial sector has been particularly targeted, including the ban on all new investments in Russia, the ban on transactions with the Russian Central Bank and the immobilization of its assets, And, in particular exclusion of major Russian banks the Swift interbank platform, an essential cog in global finance that enables fast and secure money exchanges.

Other sectors of the Russian economy were also punished: EU airspace was closed to all Russian aircraft. Also, Russian ships no longer have the right to anchor in European ports. Russian road hauliers are prohibited from operating in the Union. Export bans to Russia have also been issued. The list of Russian products that are not allowed to be imported to the European Union or the United States in particular continues to grow.

Although some of its members are very dependent on it, in August the EU decided to stop purchasing Russian coal, which represents 45% of its coal imports. The EU27 also plans to cut their imports of Russian gas by two-thirds by the end of the year. The United States has also announced an embargo on Russian oil and gas imports.

These sanctions had a rapid effect on the Russian economy. Four days after the war started, the ruble fell by more than 40% against the dollar, forcing the Russian Central Bank to raise its key rate and limit the purchase of foreign currency. Vladimir Putin was forced to stage a coup to raise the price of his currency: he threatened to shut the valves if Russian gas buyers failed to pay their rubles bills.

The Minister of Economic Affairs confirmed on March 1 on franceinfo that: “the sanctions are of a terrifying effectiveness”. Add: “We are going to wage an all-out economic and financial war against Russia.” Bruno Le Maire then went back to his comments, which he judged: “inappropriate”† To say from there that Russia is sanctioned like no other country?

Where Bruno Le Maire is right, these sanctions are unprecedented in the speed with which they were applied, and in the power of the target country, a member of the G20 that is highly integrated into the global economy.analyzes Erica Moret, researcher at the University of Geneva and specialist in international sanctions. “However, they are not yet at the level of sanctions imposed against Iran or North Korea.” An analysis shared by all experts interviewed by franceinfo. Because if Venezuela, Cuba or Syria have also been the target of heavy reprisals, North Korea and Iran are still a notch higher in restrictions.

Under Donald Trump’s mandate, in 2018, the United States decided to backtrack on the Iranian nuclear deal and reinstate drastic sanctions against the Tehran regime, while forcing the international community to enforce them, under penalty of, in turn, companies present in the US market. Result: a total embargo on Iranian oil, a financial embargo excluding Iranian banks from the SWIFT system and a ban on trade with Iran in many sectors for companies that transact in dollars.

Iran and Russia are two oil economies, but an embargo has been put in place against Iran, while we have not gone that far for Russia“, emphasizes Thierry Coville, researcher at Iris and specialist in Iran. According to this expert, black gold sales have increased from 2 million barrels per day in 2018 to 150,000 in 2020. “The Americans have drained Iran. GDP has fallen by 15% in two years and inflation has exploded.”

“We often forget that Iran has received far more sanctions than Russia.”

Thierry Coville, researcher at Iris and specialist in Iran

at franceinfo

As for North Korea, it is by far the most sanctioned country in the world, and has been for nearly 70 years. †If we compare the sanctions against Russia with that ifto apply about North Korea, it’s a joke“, says Théo Clément, an independent consultant specializing in North Korea. “Since 2016, between 95 and 97% of trade is sanctioned.” An almost total embargo, which results in the country being banned from nations. †The North Korean financial system has long been almost cut off from the world, the country is internationally isolated.” adds the expert

If, therefore, Russia is far from the most sanctioned country, things may change. “We have not yet reached the size of the sanctions against Iran or North Korea, but I think if Vladimir Putin continues on the same path, we could get closer.“, says Erica Moret. According to the researcher, the effect of a similar set of sanctions would almost completely isolate the country, with a much greater impact on the population.

In the countries subject to very strict sanctions, however, the policy shift desired by the international community has not taken place, quite the contrary. “In North Korea, the political impact of sanctions has been counterproductive. One of the reasons for the country’s nuclear expansion was the thrill of an internationally orchestrated strangulation“, explains Théo Clément. Same situation in Iran: “The sanctions did not affect Iranian policy and none of the twelve conditions for lifting were met. On the contrary, Iran became more radical and moderates were discredited.”analyzes Thierry Coville.

The sanction mechanism is therefore far from unanimous among the surveyed researchers. †Historically, there are almost no cases where they have had the desired effect. The sanctions are in place to reassure the population and show that we are acting without having to go to war.”says Thierry Coville. “They have a role of political communication”adds Théo Clement.

“In general, there is a consensus about the lack of effect of sanctions, even on their counter-productivity.”

Théo Clément, specialist in North Korea

at franceinfo

When Erica Moret confirms that sanctions have worked very little over the past twenty years, however, she recalls that they allowed Russia to return to the negotiating table in 2015 after the annexation of Crimea, and that they remain one of the few tools available when diplomacy no longer works and the military option is ruled out.

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