Effect and exit

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After the announcement of new US sanctions, formalized in the form of an executive order by Joe Biden, the whip’s bite (there are no draconian measures, but the word “comprehensive” is there), as well as the degree of sweetness of the gingerbread (there are invitations to a “meeting in a third country”, and so – no) at first glance look contradictory. Not to say that the alternation of temperatures is so unusual for Russia – the cult of the hot bath and snow has taught to enjoy such extreme inconsistency. However, in relations with the United States, bath catharsis still does not occur: the temperature only rises, and instead of a refreshing snowdrift, there is a high risk of getting foam decorations.

The latter is quite logical and is determined by deep contradictions between countries. Alas, the sincere desire of many people to “meet the presidents” and solve all the problems at once and peacefully is not enough for the success of the negotiations. It is bad with a positive agenda, there is no trust in the negotiations, there is only an exchange of views on the desired roles of the partner. Washington, in fact, demands from Moscow “not to influence” (it is the attempts to influence the “perception” of Americans that are interpreted as interference), Moscow demands from Washington “not to teach how to live” (urging it to settle in a multipolar world and forget about the distribution of roles in 1992) … The dialogue is honest and necessary, but not particularly conducive to a fruitful summit: it is difficult to discuss vacation plans when filing a divorce.

In his message to the Federal Assembly on April 21, President Vladimir Putin noted: Russia behaves with the utmost restraint in its foreign policy, although for some countries “clinging” to Moscow has become a kind of sport. According to the head of state, the Russian Federation wants good relations with all states, however, if necessary, it will answer, and most importantly, it will itself determine the red lines in contacts with other countries in each specific case.

Meanwhile, there is no reason to consider the new US sanctions to be an increase in the negotiation rates – on the contrary, this is a very clear and consistent declaration of intent: the Americans declare that they want to cooperate where it is in their interests. The spheres listed in the new sanctions decree are obviously not included in this list, and sanctions are imposed on them. What is included, besides new strategic stability, on which there is no well-developed agenda, and deconflicting in Syria, the Arctic and Europe, which is being carried out by the military, and not directly by the heads of state, is not very clear.

The decree is clearly better – they promise to potentially sanction any company and sphere that is not attractive to American national interests. Biden’s clause about goodwill not to use the whip under certain conditions does not instill a sense of reassurance. It is customary to treat the gun on the wall in the sanctions documents very unambiguously: to assess not intentions, but opportunities, especially when it comes to relations with an enemy country, as Washington and Moscow now solemnly and openly call each other.

The effect of new sanctions (as well as, in principle, any unilateral sanctions) “in the moment” for the world economy is not that insignificant – a minor interfering variable. The most destructive sanctions campaigns – for example, against Iran in 2013-2014 – cost up to 10% of GDP at most and only to the target country. Global crises, wars, a pandemic are more expensive for a significantly larger number of participants. The effect of most of the US sanctions campaigns fluctuates between 1-3% of GDP, with a median value of about 1.5%. Actually, even the Russian market “exhaled” by the end of the week, and the diplomatic “stabbing” almost did not disturb the stock exchanges.

More interesting is the long-term effect of sanctions on the international system: they are changing the perception of global networks. The framework of the globalization project of the 20th century was built on the provision of key “communications” to the United States for general use. Unilateral sanctions are an open admission that the networks are common, but no one intends to share the checkpoints in them.

Politically, this should mean that the project is unacceptable for a wide range of participants in the long term. It is participation in the control over networks – financial, informational, technological – that today becomes the central issue in the design of the future international system. The prospects for alternative systems, the main quality of which should be the impossibility of a monopoly over the checkpoint, are looming more clearly today.

Let’s make a reservation right away: when the problem of unfriendly checkpoints was a problem only for Iran, and a little for Russia, most non-Western countries, of course, “intellectually understood” that this was a sign of not the most reliable system for everyone, but they were not ready to bear the serious costs of creating a new one. Today, when a powerful sanctions program is operating against China, the risks of secondary sanctions affect a significantly larger number of countries. For Russia, the new sanctions package sets quite clear coordinates: it will be more difficult, but it will be more difficult for an increasing number of countries.

The country’s costs of managing the sanctions risk will rise. At the same time, Moscow’s ability to create tangible and at the same time politically acceptable costs of anti-Russian sanctions for the United States is limited. This means that it is unprofitable to strategically adhere to a bilateral approach in its anti-sanctions policy – “interrupting the agenda” can be achieved by cooperation with other countries, increasing not tactical, but strategic costs of the policy of unilateral US sanctions.

However, this requires the creation of not tools of the “underground”, allowing at the moment to bypass certain restrictions, but the proposal and creation with others of an open alternative system, devoid of the drawback of the American system – monopoly control over its checkpoint. This is difficult and demotivating for states with large international ambitions – China, India, even individual regional powers. However, attempts to offer something less (as well as to do the same, but simply non-American) probably do not have an optimistic outlook.

Author – expert of the Valdai Club, Director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies, National Research University Higher School of Economics

The opinion of the author may not coincide with the position of the editorial board