I'm at a loss for understanding the current US government strategy of continuing economic sanctions as it seems to do more harm to the US and help countries that the US is attempting to curb the influence of like China.

(1) Pulling US/European businesses out of Russia essentially created a void for Chinese companies to fill. Now China receives that money while the US and Europe does not.

(2) Russia has managed to already find buyers for oil and gas in Cuba, China, India, Brazil and other countries which will help soften the blow of an ineffectively slow oil and gas embargo from Europe.

(3) Europe and the US are experiencing record rates of inflation while Russia does not seem to be currently affected as badly. I have seen articles regarding Russia not having access to certain supplies but they seem to be making due with what they have.

Russia is consistently making progress in the war while Ukraine loses ground.

At this point it feels like the US is employing a losing strategy and plans to continue on this path. Is there any sort of logic in this strategy or is this just the only thing the US can do?

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    Pulling US/European businesses out of Russia I think you'll find that there was a lot of intra-European pressure to not doing business in Russia so claiming that it's all at the US's instigation seems a bit off. I can't see any major European head of state being too supportive of their companies carrying out non-essential trade with Russia (gas for example being an "essential" exception). This is framed here as an only-by-US-will situation, which doesn't seem all that true, unless you recenter the question to only-US effects and only-US actions. Jul 14 at 23:47
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    Er... The US inflation just hit 9%, while Russia's is about 17% (both in yearly terms). Perhaps it's just that for Russia it may not be 'record high' (in recent memory...)
    – Zeus
    Jul 15 at 1:54
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    ".. is this just the only thing the US can do?" Good question. What else could it do? I don't know really. Surrendering to Russia is bad and taking part more actively in the war also. So it really might be the best available option.
    – Trilarion
    Jul 15 at 6:12
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    Define "does more harm". You are comparing not being able to buy something at all with something else costing more. Yes, it's entirely plausible sanctions won't stop Putin. An even stronger package didn't stop Mussolini when he invaded Ethiopia imf.org/en/Publications/fandd/issues/2022/06/…
    – Fizz
    Jul 15 at 7:50
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    FYI: overall industrial production in Russia fell by a negligible amount, but for cars it was 96% reuters.com/markets/europe/… What would Americans say if that happened in the US?
    – Fizz
    Jul 15 at 8:45

1 Answer 1


Let's say we are playing a game. We both have several apples, and whoever is left with no apples, loses. Let's say I lose two apples each turn, and you lose one - in theory, that's not a good strategic situation for me. But if at the start of the game I have seven apples, and you have three - the above situation still leads to me winning. This can be referred to as "strategic depth" - even if I take more losses, since I have more resources to start with, I can win the battle of attrition, because in the long run I can afford my large losses, and you cannot afford your small ones.

This is how economic sanctions are supposed to work. It is pretty much impossible to impose sanctions that would not hit you back, but a larger economy can more easily absorb losses, thus smaller economies can be pressured by embargoes even if in absolute terms the larger actor takes more losses.

That said, I am not sure whether USA does actually take more losses than Russia in this case. Europe certainly does, but US economy was not as entangled with Russian in terms of trade as European ones. On the other hand, cutting off Russia from European market creates an opening for US companies to fill the freed niches; particularly, LNG trade is, obviously, experiencing a record high. Regarding inflation (and economic recession in general) - it is hard to tell how much the war contributes to already present tension from COVID consequences, but while EU and USA did hit record rates of inflation, Russia is also experiencing highest level of inflation since 2014 (and 2014 had Russia at highest level of inflation since 1998; and let's not even speak about the depths Russian economy was plunged into by the dissolution of USSR); and, according to official sources, rate of inflation in Russia is currently higher than that of EU or USA.

You might point out that, for example, North Korea and Iran still haven't collapsed; thus, this strategy is still the losing one for this war. Well... politics rarely matches moral guidelines. While the morally optimal outcome for the USA would be Russia collapsing under the economic pressure and Ukraine reaching military victory, an acceptable outcome might be a stalemate which would exhaust all forces in the region (EU included) and make them more pliable in the diplomatic sense - and just look at how much NATO support improved since January. And with Russia both exhausted by fighting and contained by European members of NATO (who are much more willing to increase their military budgets than they were last year), USA will be free to deal with tensions in Asia. Ukraine might be lost, but USA influence in Europe would be increased significantly. And it wouldn't be the first time USA would come on top of a European war it didn't participate in from the start...

  • Of course we (U.S. consumers) take losses by not importing cheaper oil (among other sanctions) and instead use expensive domestic labor for ethical reasons. Jul 15 at 13:11

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