Readers submitted questions about economic sanctions imposed on Russia and what more the United States, European Union and other allies could do to penalize the country. Like many readers, Matt Adler of Philadelphia wanted to know: “What is the toughest and harshest sanction that the world at large could impose on Russia? What would it take to make that happen?”
To get the answer we asked Ana Swanson, who has been writing about the economic retaliation against Russia and its ripple effects across the globe.
The United States, the European Union and their allies have placed extensive sanctions on Russia as part of a multipronged strategy to constrain its behavior. Many Western countries are taking action to halt their energy trade with Russia and cut the country off from vast parts of the global financial system.
Western governments have also banned transactions with Russia’s central bank and sovereign wealth fund, forcing Russia to enact strict restrictions on capital flows to prop up the value of its currency.
Western countries have also frozen the assets of Russian officials and oligarchs, banned exports of advanced technology to Russia and cut some Russian banks off from SWIFT, essentially barring them from international transactions.
Congress voted in early April to revoke Russia’s preferential trading status, a step that would impose higher tariffs on Russian exports, and to ban imports of Russian oil. The United States has also banned imports of Russian seafood, vodka, nonindustrial diamonds and other products, and barred exports of luxury items to Russia. In late April, the White House announced that it would ban Russian ships from calling on American ports, steps already taken by Canada and European nations.
The European Union is nearing approval of an embargo on Russian oil that would be phased in over a period of some months — a step previously seen as politically untenable because of its enormous costs for Germany and its potential to disrupt politics around the region and increase energy prices.
Still, there is more the countries opposing Russia could do. Energy trade between Russia and Europe has not fallen off as sharply as some analysts expected, and Russia is still actively trading a range of goods with non-Western countries. At a time of soaring inflation and supply chain issues, some governments have been hesitant to fully cut off flows of Russian energy and commodities. As long as Russia is exporting those key products, foreign funds are still flowing back to Moscow.
The most comprehensive sanction that Western countries could impose would be a full economic embargo that would block other countries from trading with Russia, with no exceptions for oil and gas — the kind of measure the United States has taken against Iran and North Korea. While such a sweeping step would put more pressure on Russian leaders, it would rankle foreign trading partners like China and India, which would have to stop trading with Russia or face harsh penalties. It would also take a toll on the Russian populace and the global economy, slowing growth and further fueling inflation.