Three-Minute Legal Tips: The Power of Sanctions on Russia

Tough, stringent measures called sanctions have been adopted by the United States, the 27-state bloc of the European Union and their international partners to punish Russia and drain financial resources for its continued invasion of Ukraine.

These unprecedented sanctions are targeting Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia’s financial system and its oligarchs in a quick, wide-ranging and collective act by other states to penalize Russia, the 11th largest economy in the world.

In less than four minutes, Anita Ramasastry, Henry M. Jackson Endowed Professor of Law and director of the UW Sustainable International Development Graduate Program, tells us how government has bills just like we do, and how penalizing Russia economically in a way that combines speed, magnitude and collective action is the most effective path to eliciting a change of behavior from Russia’s presence in Ukraine.

Read the Transcript

Anita Ramasastry: I'm Anita Ramasastry. I'm the Henry M. Jackson Professor of Law at the University of Washington.

Three-Minute Legal Tips: What are economic sanctions?

AR: Economic sanctions are economic and financial penalties that are imposed by governments or countries against either individuals, other economic actors or against individual governments.

TMLT: What sanctions did the U.S. impose on Russia?

AR: There are many sanctions that have been posed by the US government in an unprecedented move against a country—Russia—with the 11th largest economy in the world. There have been targeted sanctions against individuals. These are the so-called oligarchs that have business ties and strong relationships, at least alleged, with the Russian government and the head of state. In addition to those targeted sanctions—and many people have heard about the seizures of yachts, for example, and mansions—there are also targeted sanctions against particular sectors. One example is the financial sector. So certain large Russian banks, their assets have been frozen. And the U.S. government has said you cannot transact with those financial institutions. So, that's very significant. And last, there are sanctions that are against the government itself. So, the Russian Central Bank has reserves, U.S. dollar reserves, that are on deposit in the U.S. Those have been frozen. And that is, again, a significant move.

TMLT: What does the United States hope to accomplish with these sanctions?

AR: They hope to really freeze and cripple the Russian economy or to isolate Russia from global markets so that as its economy tanks, this will be an incentive for Russia to come to the table, to negotiate peace, and to cease its engagement in the conflict in Ukraine.

TMLT: What impact does it have when many countries are imposing the same or similar sanctions?

AR: It's the power of the collective. And again, in terms of what's unprecedented the speed, the magnitude, but also the collective action of the United States, other partners, many European states working together to impose similar sanctions. They're not all identical. Then you have a stronger effect and impact. One country acting alone really doesn't do much in terms of impact on the economy. And again, as we think about this as sort of the economic strategy in response, because we're not engaged in the armed conflict, the hope is that this will be a big swift in terms of its effect.

TMLT: How will these sanctions affect the Russian government?

AR: If the government can't pay to do what it normally needs to do, whether it is to buy weapons, whether it is to keep the lights on in government buildings, it won't have the money in order to do that. It needs access to foreign currency to keep the value of the Russian ruble stable as well. What we're already seeing is, is that the value of the ruble, because markets are not confident in Russia anymore, is really lowering, right? So, it's becoming more expensive for Russians and the Russian government to do business. But in addition to that, you just need that money to pay debts and to pay bills, Russia, as a government has bills, just like we do.

TMLT: How will these sanctions affect the Russian people?

AR: As we try to address this issue at the government level or thinking about the ties of the government to the global economy, there are going to be effects on the Russian people. The idea of targeted sanctions, which is where we started was to minimize impact, right? You're trying to deal with the oligarchs, not with the ordinary Russian citizen. So, we have to really think about, again, what will that impact be and try to provide some ways or measures for humanitarian relief. Right now, you can't export a computer into Russia, there are bans on that. But there may be essential needs in terms of if we think about health care or access to technology for Russians in the health sector, that there may be exceptions that need to be made, so humanitarian exceptions to sanctions