A local journalist argued some time after murdering of Jamal Khashoggi something like the following (approximately from the memory, I cannot find the source now):

I do not mind paying more for the oil if Western countries decide to impose sanctions upon Saudi Arabia for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi

This answer provides several reasons that might trigger Western sanctions that are directly related to economical interests:

  • (..) sanctions can be based on moral concerns, without reference to interests.
  • (..) acting in support of morality even when it's not directly beneficial encourages others to do the same
  • (..) there is an argument to be made for having a general policy opposing killing journalists.

However Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest oil producers in the world (3rd place) and I expect that it has a big influence on oil price.

Question: Can Western countries impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia in a similar way to those imposed to Russia?

Economical context (i.e. big oil producer) suggests that such sanctions are very hard to implement, but I am wondering if there is a bigger context.

  • 1
    Note: since his election Joe Biden has significantly softened his stance on Saudi Arabia, mostly in a hope to offset the rise of the oil prices - countering the results of the sanctions imposed on Russia. Notably, during his Middle Eastern trip, Biden shook hands with MBS, while mentioning the murder of Kashoggi only in private (at least he claims that he mentioned it.) Also, there is questionable morality about imposing the sanctions because of the murder of one journalist, while ignoring the war in Yemen that the KSA has been waging for years (since the times when Biden was a vice-president) Sep 15, 2022 at 10:15
  • Sanction is a state action by the economically strong nation toward a perceived weaker nation. It is not a matter of can, but a matter of will.
    – Faito Dayo
    Sep 16, 2022 at 14:49

5 Answers 5


In the broad range of options available as sanctions, a total embargo on Saudi oil would be close to the nuclear option. Sanctions would be more likely to start with:

  • Stopping arms sales
  • Freezing some of the government officials assets abroad (in particular the royal family)
  • Discourage investments in the country

That it is not possible to live as US and EU does now without they oil, does not mean every single European and American will die after they cut it off.

I do not think India and China will buy all sanctioned oil and for the same price on a long run. They do not need it now. Apart from filling some reserves, why would they need it after the sanctions?

The absolutely minimal standards look more like heating houses only enough to prevent the water freezing, private cars mostly banned, few hours of electricity per day only, all passenger airlines banned, bread and rice only in the shops and the like. With all this implemented and all coal and nuclear plants restarted, it should be survivable. It is not clear if this can be done without starting the mass riots, but this really depends on the context. If Europeans would agree they safety is in danger, it can be done like it has been done over numerous wars in the past.

It must be the reason to go that far. But if they would suddenly decide to arrange the "special military operation" right in Vatican (not a NATO country, same as Ukraine), this may be possible. I really do not imagine this happening, Saudi Arabia looks like a peaceful and friendly country.

  • 2
    "Saudi Arabia looks like a peaceful and friendly country" Many people in Yemen will disagree with you.
    – convert
    Sep 17, 2022 at 11:46

Can Western countries impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia in a similar way to those imposed to Russia?


Saudi Arabia's primary source of power lies in the Petrodollar and Petrodollar Recycling system. If the USA wants to sanction Saudi Arabia, the USD will commit suicide. Therefore, in the case of the USA, the answer is an absolute and resounding NO.

Next, the KSA purchases billions of dollars' worth of weapons from the UK and France (see also). Therefore, these two countries also can't sanction them.

If these three countries can't sanction the KSA, I don't see anyone else coming forward.

  • The question asks whether western countries can impose sanctions. Of course any sanctions come with some economical cost to the country imposing them but that doesn't imply the Western countries can't imply those sanctions. The threshhold at which their are willing to bear the economic cost appears to be much higher than murdering a journalist but that is very different from 'can't impose sanctions'.
    – quarague
    Sep 15, 2022 at 9:42
  • @quarague, The question asks whether western countries can impose sanctions ... ... the Western countries can't imply those sanctions. --- --- Can the USA and Russia attack each other with nuclear bombs? and Are the USA and Russia capable of attacking each other with nuclear bombs? are different questions. Still, the answer would ultimately be the same. USA and Russia both possess the capability, but they cannot. The reason is MAD.
    – user366312
    Sep 15, 2022 at 9:52

Sure, Western countries can impose sanctions on anybody they want, including Saudi Arabia, but there are still some more important questions to answer. Which country's sanctions would hurt more: Western countries or Saudi Arabia? And more importantly, will it help to achieve any of Western goals?

As can be seen in the example of Russia, sanctions hurt both sides equally, and there is no need to argue which side is hurt more. Since such big economies like China, India, and some others are not participating in the sanctions, Russia still has the possibility to sell its goods. The same would be with Saudi Arabia. The sanctions would also push Saudi Arabia closer to such opponents of the West as Russia and China.


Well, the House of Saud was not invited to the Queen's funeral. So thats one sanction.

From a Realpolitik point of view, samctions cpuld be applied but the nations involved don't think its worth it, except when the optics - that is the public relations look bad.

From a quid pro quo point of view every country has its dissidents. Take Reality Winner in the USA jailed for doing what she saw as right. Part of it was due to lack of The Intercept not protecting their sources. But given that she was a whistleblower one might hope - as usual when it comes to USA national security detail - they can take down a young woman but they attacked Iraq on wholly fabricayed hroumds which they then proceeded to sell to the USA public. It was gross.

And then there is their operation "get Julian Assange at all costs". Julian Asssange is a journalist. He should have the protections offered to all journalists. Not offer him up to our imperial masters - the USA - on bended knee...

I'm pointing out the lack of consistency in the treatment of dissidents - as you appear to be worrying about dissidents.

  • 1
    Except for the first sentence, everything else seems unrelated to the question.
    – Alexei
    Sep 20, 2022 at 7:03
  • @Alexei: You are talking abput, Kashoggi, a dissident Saudi journalist. I was talking about dissident USA journalists. The missing bit is quid pro quo. Sep 20, 2022 at 7:06
  • @Alexei: If you want a blunt answer to your headline question from a realpolitik viewpoint. They could but don't think its worth it except when the opticals look bad and then its mainly soft sanctions like I mentioned in my first sentence. Sep 20, 2022 at 7:08
  • 1
    This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post. - From Review
    – F1Krazy
    Sep 20, 2022 at 8:53
  • @F1Krazy: I've edited in my comments which Alexei seemed to fimd satosfactory as he hasn't come back to me on this. Sep 20, 2022 at 8:58

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