The world is trying to sanction away a war: It won’t work 

Sanctions have proven to be unsuccessful, what’s next?


Collegian File Photo

By Conor Johnston, Collegian Columnist

A week ago, a map of Ukraine would have been painted white: a color that symbolizes peace, unity and renowned hegemony. Now, as Russian forces invade Ukraine, more and more land is turning red: indicating death, destruction and theft. The sadness we all feel as another war breaks out in Europe is exacerbated by the high degree of inaction from the world. The United States, for example, believes that issuing economic sanctions is enough of a contribution. The reality is that sanctions are not enough to move Russian soldiers back.

I could do a history lesson on United States’ sanctions and their resounding failure — it’s quite alarming. The United States sanctioning Russia is surprisingly not new and has been going on for years. As we continue to target the Russian economy with some measly ultimatum to punish its attack on Ukraine, it doesn’t really accomplish much. Back in 2019, Hunter Carwood wrote, “after almost seven years of economic warfare…the United States has nothing to show for beyond mildly harassing the Russian economy.” This history of sanctioning Russia proves time and time again that their economy is strong enough to withstand sanctions while pursuing the same policy that the sanctions were designed to combat.

At face value, it just looks like sanctions don’t accomplish anything. But beyond this, they also hurt the average citizen of a country more than they hurt the actual leader. This sends the message that people are responsible for their leader’s choices in nondemocratic countries. The United Nations Human Rights Council reported that “sanctions hurt all and are particularly harmful to the human rights of women, children, and other vulnerable groups.” Ultimately, sanctions not only have been unsuccessful in motivating change, but also prove to hurt citizens more than anything.

While this unfolds, Ukraine has to hold its own against the second best-ranked army in the world. It’s been forced to draft young men and women and prepare for the worst against Russia. With an incredibly young army, and comparatively less resources than Russia, this war has a predictable outcome. College students and people like you and me are being forced to either flee the country or fight in the war. The Ukrainian border is shrinking by the second, and sanctions from the world are sending a message telling them to just stand by and wait. The severity of the issue cannot be more clearly expressed, and nothing is being done to stop it.

To be clear, the rest of the world isn’t responsible for going to war with Russia to defend Ukraine. The United States and other countries sanctioning Russia, however, must come to the realization that what they’re doing is not working. It’s time to pursue a new direction. It’s time for the United States to lead a dramatic shift in policy: one that will defend Ukraine and promote peace and unity. I’ll concede that this is a seemingly impossible task, but just applying blanket sanctions is not the “better-than-nothing” approach that we should be taking. Sanctioning Russia is equivalent to putting a band aid on a bullet hole. The world is trying to prevent the gun from ever being fired, while Ukraine is already bleeding out.

Conor Johnston can be reached at [email protected]