Russian sanctions: Only hurting the little guys

In order to ensure that Russia will abide by the agreements made during February’s Minsk Ceasefire Agreement the European Union decided to extend economic sanctions against Russia until the end of January 2016, EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic tweeted, according to BBC.

The agreement was made in order to try and re-establish control within eastern Ukraine and stop the conflicts within the Donbass region which have been going on since March 2014.

A previous ceasefire was violated five days after its signing on September 5, 2014 by pro-Russian rebels fighting against the Ukrainian government.

While skirmishes have continued since February, on September 1 both the Donbass rebels and the Ukrainian government agreed to try and end the shelling in order to coincide with the new academic year, according to Deutsche Welle. This month has seen some of the lowest levels of conflict since the outbreak of the war last year.

The conditions of the ceasefire agreement include an immediate ceasefire on both sides, withdrawing of heavy weapons, establishing a dialogue on holding local elections, amnesty and pardon for those involved in the conflict, release of hostages and illegally detained people, full restoration of Ukrainian control within its borders, a withdrawal of all foreign troops and weaponry, and adoption of a new constitution in the Ukraine, according to BBC.

While there is hope that the Minsk agreement will last, the possibility of continued economic sanctions may still be a reality even after January.

The sanctions themselves are a complicated mix of asset freezes and travel bans against influential business firms, banks and wealthy top senior officials linked to the conflict.

Oil firms Roseneft, Transneft, Gazprom Neft, and Russian state banks are some of the primary companies the sanction will target, according to BBC.

Individuals who have been targeted by the sanctions include Gennady Timchenko, an owner of an investment firm and Igor Sechin, a former intelligence officer and chairman of the oil firm Rosnest.

Targets of these international sanctions are considered “materially or financially supporting actions undermining or threatening Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence,” according to BBC.

Despite what is often painted as an economic war against Russia, President Vladimir Putin is not affected by the sanctions. This has not stopped him from retaliating with his own set of sanctions against agriculture exports from the EU.

The sanctions, while adjusting the rhetoric against Putin, have done nothing but cause more economic strife within Europe and have hurt those who reside peacefully within their nation’s borders.

Other European countries have been fairly critical of the sanctions against Russia and outright reluctant to increase them due to an economic dependency on Russia.

EU trade with Russia totals nearly $302 billion which dwarfs that of US-Russian trade.

Germany’s exports to Russia totaled $51 billion during 2013 and their profits were the highest within the EU. Germany has also received more than 30 percent of its oil and gas from Russia.

The Prime Minster of Bulgaria, Boyko Borissov, was very outspoken about the negative affects the sanctions had on his country due to the fact exports to Russia were down 22 percent, according to Daily Mail.

Czech President Milos Zeman also voiced opposition to the sanctions against Russia, according to Prague Post. Greece and Hungary have also expressed concerns regarding the sanctions especially since the EU voted to extend them to January.

By the end of March, the number of Russians living beneath the poverty line grew to nearly 23 million which is 3 million more than last year, according to CNN.

Sanctions, oil prices, and the domestic recession have inflated the value of the ruble, causing prices to grow at an annual rate of 16 percent in the first quarter of 2015, according to CNN. This is also partnered with an annual fall in wages: 14 percent in May and 7 percent in June.

One is left to wonder whether or not such attacks on a nation’s ability to feed and clothe itself are worth the trouble they cause?

A study conducted by Gary Hufbauer, Jeffery Schott and Kimberly Ann Elliot reviewed 115 cases between 1914 and 1990 and concluded that only 34 percent of sanctions accomplished their goal, as reported by Business Insider.

Another study by Robert A. Pape argued that sanctions were only effective 5 percent of the time rather than 34 percent, as reported by Business Insider.

I myself just spent two months in Russia and saw how everyday people were personally affected by the sanctions. It seems that these sanctions are no longer working as a political leverage but are a direct attack on the human rights of the citizens within the country.