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Russia is essentially being blocked out of trade, and also, some western services (e.g., Apple) as a result of their war with Ukraine. The Russian currency is also collapsing quitea much. However, the war continues without much stopping.

Exactly, why is Russia still able to maintain the military operation after all these sanctions? In other words, what more of value does the attack of Ukraine give which may offset these sanction costs?

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    Not my DV, but I don't think this is answerable as formulated. We don't know what's going through Putin's head and frankly not even the Western intelligence services know much about his decision making process.
    – Fizz
    Mar 2 at 15:15
  • Better Q's would be about the effect of specific sanctions (with some reading of your own), or asking why Russia attacked (which I'd think has already been asked here), or asking for instances when sanctions got a country to quickly end an attack. This Q is combining too much, plus basically saying "why isn't Putin acting the way I would?" Mar 2 at 18:29
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    Vote to reopen. We don't know why Putin started this, but we have plenty of historical precedents about how sanctions work or do not work and on what timeline (this is very early, right now). As well as the behavior of authoritarian leaders once at war and their remain-in-power expectancy once they back down. Mar 2 at 21:19
  • I don't see how this is verifiable to public. The only people who can answer are the Russian leadership.
    – Allure
    Mar 2 at 23:54
  • I would not qualify "blocking Apple" as a sanction. ;) Mar 4 at 11:56

5 Answers 5

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This is a bit speculative, as no one can read minds, but Putin has been described as an isolationist.

If the theory of Putin as an isolationist is to be followed, the sanctions are doing Putin's work for him:

The list can be continued.

Now, the view that Putin wants to isolate Russia isn't necessarily all true. But if some part of it is, the sanctions are doing what he couldn't manage himself, while placing blame on the West and supporting the "us vs them" mentality.

They are also hurting things Putin wanted to keep, like oil and gas exports, or like the banking industry. So it's not all positive for him. But as Putin's own lifestyle is hardly in danger, the damage to his people might be a sacrifice he's willing to take.

Remember that Putin does not equal Russia. He doesn't have to run an electoral campaign and compete with the other party every four years. Over the 20+ years of his reign, democratic institutions have been largely reduced to formalities. He went as far as to unilaterally extend his term.

Putin doesn't seem afraid of being overthrown, having built for himself the most policed country on the planet. There isn't a democratic process for that, and Putin's former violent opposition is now fighting in Ukraine.

If any part of the claims about Putin's isolationism is true, the sanctions are, at worst, a give-and-take for Putin specifically, rather than an outright harm.

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According to several news reports, President Putin believes himself on a historic mission to restore Russia, which during the 19th century held many of the territories that later became the Soviet Union. In a way, he wants to undo the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the form of a resurgent Russia.

If that is the case, his long-term prospects would slip by waiting. (Here is an American study on demographics, but fossil fuel trends also matter.)

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There is little doubt that Russia anticipated the sanctions.

Its banking systems response was swift and pre-planned. The mark-to-market rules were suspended on the 1st day of the sanctions. This, in itself, is a technically difficult thing to pull off. And being able to do this so quickly had to require pre-planning.

Certainly, Russia anticipated a ban on sales of chips because such bans were imposed on the USSR when it existed. And there has been a world-wide chip shortage for about a year now. The shortage has gone mostly unexplained. One possible explanation is that Russia has been stockpiling them.

Russia did miscalculate the resolve of the Ukrainians and the world's response to their plight. But we have not entered the timeline in which Russia has to resupply its forces, yet. The war itself has not yet lasted long enough for Russia to have fully expanded its deployed force. Today's reports are that 80% of the forces Russia has made available for the invasion have entered the fighting.

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Confidently isn't the term I'd use for their assault right now. Long distance bombardment of cities, like they did to Grozny, isn't confidence or military brilliant, but it is a meatgrinder that will eventually work.

But mostly, having started it *, for whatever reasons and probably partially due to believing that he would only get token sanctions, he would look horribly weak to be backing off. Weak personally, and also putting the lie to Russia's great power. A great power that he personally attributes to himself to sell his policies to Russians.

For a democratic leader, backing off from an already started war of choice would be ignominious and eventually send them to retirement at the next election. For a dictator it brings real risk of losing power violently.

It's certainly why the world should not hold too immediate expectations for him to be reasonable now that he has started. He will not be defeated short term on the battlefield and he has nukes to keep the West out of acting directly.

This is also why any reasonable face-saving move to get him out should not be passed over in favor of "taking him out". And also why the, ethically justified and PR-savvy move of accusing him of war crimes should be quietly ditched if he agrees to back out.

* This isn't about why he started - @o.m. makes some very credible points, but surely he can't have expected that Ukrainians wouldn't need a draining long term force to keep them under his boot? Without massive economic support, like Belarus requires? And that NATO, having resisted the much stronger Warsaw Pact, would give in to his demands to cut loose the Baltics and existing Eastern European members? In short restoring the Soviet Union's near abroad by force was a delusional goal that he somehow went for. We don't know why he's acting this way (@Fizz shared this link before).

Not genius, that's for sure, notwithstanding his fan club (woe, to see a day I'd quote Bolton).

BTW, sanctions can work, given (lots of) time:

  • South Africa dropped Apartheid
  • Myanmar's junta liberalized, even if it reverted later
  • Khaddafi abandoned his nuclear bomb plans

These are all considerably less powerful countries and it still took decades. But South Africa is illustrative. Unlike the other two its wider elite was relatively affluent and aspired to a Western lifestyle. Sanctions against a very poor country don't generate the massive transition in circumstances that ordinary Russians are going through right now, from losing their iPhones to not being able to holiday abroad to suddenly becoming pariahs from a world they aspired to mingle with.

Compared to those 3 examples, Russia has also been comprehensively whacked with multiple sanctions from a very wide array of actors in an historically unprecedented short span of time.

And, please, let's not bring Yemen into this. No one's proposing to starve people in Russia and the Yemen sanctions were brought in by a regime who believes in chopping people up in its embassies.

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Economic sanctions work slowly. Their total impact increases roughly linearly with the time over which they take effect. Since they took effect only for a few days now, they have not had much real impact.

War on the other hand has very quick repercussions. Bombs can destroy homes and lives over night.

Russia might think that they can still quickly win the war and then negotiate a peace that includes a lift on the sanctions for example in return of a more favorable treatment of Ukrainians.

Or Russia would already now like to get out of the war in view of the sanctions and their prospected future damage but cannot without losing face. They can't really say: "If we had known that you sanction us that badly, we wouldn't have invaded Ukraine. Sorry." can they?

Or Russia thinks that the sanctions are an adequate price to pay to be able to wage war in Ukraine. After all the predicted downturn of the economy of 5-7% could be seen as not that large. However, the estimation could be too low or larger sanctions might still be possible (like cutting all banks off of SWIFT or a complete oil and gas embargo).

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