The Russian response to Western sanctions


The Vineyard of the Saker is a pro-Russian, pro-Putin web log written and edited by a descendent of a Russian emigre family living in the United States.  This is the Saker’s perception of Russian public opinion, based on watching Russian broadcasts and reading Russian publications on the Internet.

  • First, nobody in Russia believes that the sanctions will be lifted.  Nobody.  Of course, all the Russian politicians say that sanctions are wrong and not conducive to progress, but these are statements for external consumption.  In interviews for the Russian media or on talk shows, there is a consensus that sanctions will never be lifted no matter what Russia does.
  • Second, nobody in Russia believes that sanctions are a reaction to Crimea or to the Russian involvement in the Donbass.  Nobody.  There is a consensus that the Russian policy towards Crimea and the Donbass are not a cause, but a pretext for the sanctions.  The real cause of the sanctions is unanimously identified as what the Russians called the “process of sovereignization”, i.e. the fact that Russia is back, powerful and rich, and that she dares openly defy and disobey the “Axis of Kindness”.
  • Third, there is a consensus in Russia that the correct response to the sanctions is double: (a) an external realignment of the Russian economy away from the West and (b) internal reforms which will make Russia less dependent on oil exports and on the imports of various goods and technologies.
  • Fourth, nobody blames Putin for the sanctions or for the resulting hardships. Everybody fully understands that Putin is hated by the West not for doing something wrong, but for doing something right.  In fact, Putin’s popularity is still at an all-time high.
  • Fifth, there is a wide agreement that the current Russian vulnerability is the result of past structural mistakes which now must be corrected, but nobody suggests that the return of Crimea to Russia or the Russian support for Novorussia were wrong or wrongly executed.
  • Finally, I would note that while Russia is ready for war, there is no bellicose mood at all.  Most Russians believe that the US/NATO/EU don’t have what it takes to directly attack Russia, they believe that the junta in Kiev is doomed and they believe that sending the Russian tanks to Kiev (or even Novorussia) would have been a mistake.

The Saker’s conclusion:

Western sanctions have exactly zero chance of achieving any change at all in Russian foreign policy and exactly zero chance of weakening the current regime.  In fact, if anything, these sanctions strengthen the Eurasian Sovereignists by allowing them to blame all the pain of economic reforms on the sanctions and they weaken the Atlantic Integrationists by making any overt support for, or association with, the West a huge political liability.

via The Vineyard of the Saker.

News media in any country don’t always represent public opinion.  The U.S. news media don’t necessarily represent American public opinion.  I don’t have either a spoken or reading knowledge of Russian.  So I can’t confirm or contradict the Saker out of personal knowledge.

But what the Saker writes is consistent with what I think I do know.  Public opinion polls do show President Putin’s popularity is at an all-time high.  This could wane if sanctions continue to bite and Russia’s position continues to weaken, but Putin’s successor wouldn’t necessarily be an improvement from the American point of view.

Granted Russia is ruled by a corrupt oligarchy.  Granted dissenters are crushed.  People rally around a leader when they are under siege.  People in the old Soviet Union rallied around Stalin in 1941.  [Added 2/18/15].

Throughout Russian history, going back to Peter the Great and before, there has been a conflict between what historians call Westernizers and Slavophiles.

The Westernizers wanted to make Russia a modern nation, and a peer of the advanced European nations such as Britain, France and Germany.  The Slavophiles believed in what might be called Russian exceptionalism—that Russia should not dilute its uniquely valuable culture with the philosophy of the West.  Of course nobody was purely one or the other.

I think Vladimir Putin, up until the time of the Sochi Olympics, was a Westernizer.  He wanted Russia to be one of great nations in the Group of Seven who run the world’s international institutions.  I don’t think that is his goal any longer.

I think he, like the Saker, sees Russia under siege, and Russia’s future in the east instead of the west.  The likely result will be a Russian-Chinese alliance, combining China’s industrial and financial power with Russia’s ability to project military power worldwide.


Western sanctions and Russian perceptions on the Vineyard of the Saker.  (Hat tip to naked capitalism)

What does Russia want? by James Meek for the London Review of Books.

Russia and the West Must Begin Thinking Seriously About a World ‘After Ukraine’, Russian Nationalist Modest Kolerov Says by Paul Goble for Window on Eurasia.

Putin Submarines Surround Australia Within Range of U.S. Bases by John Helmer on Dances With Bears.  An example of Russia’s ability to project military power worldwide.

Moscow Urged to Stop Its ‘Hybrid Genocide’ of Crimean Tatars by Paul Goble for Window on Eurasia.  The ugly side of ethnic Russian nationalism.

The Errand-Boys of Europe by Padraig Murphy for the Dublin Review of Books.  Historical background on Russia’s attitude toward Europe.

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