An agency of the EU

Sanctions and Russia: lessons from the Cold War

Brief - No10 - 24 April 2015

Nicu Popescu

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The public debate around the effectiveness of sanctions is divided between those who believe that sanctions do not work; a more diffuse camp of lukewarm supporters arguing that sanctions are either a necessary evil or a way to preserve the credibility of the EU and US; and a smaller group of true believers who are convinced of their political and symbolic worth. 

This debate is centred on a few key questions. Can sanctions change Russian policies in Ukraine? And if so, will they? Are they effective foreign policy tools or simply blunt instruments which harm the West as much as Russia?

As it is still too early to offer definitive answers to these questions. But given that much of the current crisis is shrouded by Cold War memories, symbols and fears, a look at some related episodes from that part of history might prove useful when attempting to assess the impact of current Western sanctions against Russia.