West's sanctions are 'economic equivalent of micro laser surgery'

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Does imposing more "targeted sanctions" on Moscow simply prove that the West is in a weak position? Photo: Reuters

It is in many ways the only option the EU and the US have in putting pressure Russia over Ukraine - but does imposing more "targeted sanctions" on Moscow simply prove that the West is in a weak position?

Diplomats from the EU and the G7 are meeting today to discuss and recommend the widening of trade measures against Russia for what they describe as the blatant continued destabilisation of Ukraine via proxy forces. Specific financial and travel restrictions have already been taken against leading business and political allies of President Vladimir Putin.

The new measures are expanding the list of leading Russian figures affected by such sanctions, as well as Russian corporations linked to or of strategic value to the Russian leadership. Some analysts have interpreted such moves as nothing more than a slap on the wrist that will be laughed off in the Kremlin.

The West's sanction are the 'economic equivalent of micro laser surgery' Credit: Reuters

In fact, during the imposition of the first set of sanctions President Putin ridiculed them, and one member on the sanctions list took to Twitter to mock President Obama. But behind such inevitable bravado is a very different picture. Financial commentators and papers such as the Financial Times have reported that the targeted sanctions have had a biting effect and has served to send a chilling omen on leading Russian financial institutions and investors of the consequences of effectively being stopped from trading with western companies.

For example, Rosiya Bank, a bank that President Obama says serves as the personal bank of President Putin and those close to him was hit by the first round of sanctions. Almost immediately, Visa and Mastercard stopped providing transactions services to customers of that bank. Think about the effect of that if you were a customer of Rosiya and could no longer use the international credit card services of Visa or Mastercard.

Diplomats from the EU and the G7 are meeting today to discuss and recommend the widening of trade measures against Russia
Diplomats from the EU and the G7 are meeting today to discuss and recommend the widening of trade measures against Russia Credit: Reuters

Such sanctions are the economic equivalent of micro laser surgery - singling out individuals and individual companies whilst not affecting the wider Russian economy and ordinary Russians.

Sanctions used to be thought of as a blunt instrument that affected a whole country, but 9/11 has changed that radically. The US Justice Department, the CIA and FBI had to completely re-think its use of financial and economic sanctions in order to target how Al Qaeda and its affiliated groups financed themselves and moved funds internationally. These American officials in such departments are jokingly called "Financial Guerrillas in Grey Suits".

The West knows that the US dollar and the Euro are effectively the global currencies of the world and restricting individuals and companies from trading in them can land an economic hammer blow on those affected.

The strategy behind the West's series of sanctions against Russians close to President Putin and the companies linked to them is to steadily but surely increase the economic pain of pursing their policies in Ukraine but to also send a message to ordinary Russians at how wealthy their rulers have become.

It is a carefully calibrated use of "soft power" against Russia's use of "hard power".