In 2022, Russia turned out to be the biggest-ever target of economic restrictions, both quantitatively and qualitatively. The “world majority” abstained from them. However, calling them “black knights” is still premature, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Ivan Timofeev.
The concept of the “black knight” is well-covered in the literature which exists on sanctions. As a rule, it is understood as a state that, despite the sanctions regime of individual initiating countries, continues to cooperate with the target country. Ultimately, such cooperation helps the target country to adapt to the sanctions, reduce the damage from them and overcome some or all of the consequences of isolation from the economies of the sanctions’ initiators.
Historically, the “black knights” have relentlessly followed in the wake of sanctions. In international relations, cases are common when a competitor of the initiator helps the target country. Russia has played a similar role many times. In the early 19th century, Alexander I actually sabotaged the Continental blockade — the system of sanctions used by France and the countries that joined it against Great Britain. Earlier in the 18th century, France itself supplied weapons to the American rebels, bypassing the British blockade. During the Cold War, US sanctions often led to assistance from the Soviet Union. China, North Korea, Cuba, Vietnam and many others received it in large volumes. After the end of the Cold War, the “black knights” seemed to have faded into the shadows. Not a single power directly challenged the United States and did not seek at all costs to help countries under sanctions. China carefully built economic relations with the DPRK, Venezuela and Iran, but kept in line with UN Security Council resolutions, avoiding confrontational steps. Russia began to return to the role of the “black knight” only in the mid-2010s. The most striking episode could be its support of the Syrian government. But here, too, Russian assistance was more military than economic.
Since the start of the Special Military Operation in February 2022, a coalition of Western countries has imposed a significant amount of sanctions on Russia. The country turned out to be the biggest-ever target of economic restrictions, both quantitatively and qualitatively. The “world majority” abstained from them. However, calling them “black knights” is still premature. Businesses in countries which are friendly towards Russia are very cautious, fearing secondary sanctions or prosecution by the US authorities and their allies.