Russia and Global Security Risks
Sanctions in the Post-Pandemic World: Informal, Asymmetric, Secondary
List of speakers

On June 30, the Valdai Club held a presentation of its new report, titled “Post-COVID-19 Sanctions Policies: Are We in for Epidemics of Sanctions?” 

In his opening remarks, Ivan Timofeev, author of the report and programme director of the Valdai Discussion Club, noted that, contrary to widespread opinion regarding the sanctions policy, the world will not change after COVID-19. Hopes for the consolidation of the world community in the face of a common threat and the easing of sanctions were not realised. Nevertheless, according to Timofeev, it makes sense to look at the policy of sanctions in the post-pandemic world from the point of view of the most active players in this field – the UN, USA, EU, China and Russia. This is what the report was dedicated to.

Dmitry Kiku, Deputy Director of the Russian Finance Ministry’s Department of External Restrictive Measures Control, spoke about the mechanisms for implementing humanitarian exemptions from UN sanctions. Having argued for the absence of similar calibrated and effective mechanisms for exempting pandemic-affected developing countries from unilateral sanctions, he went on to analyse the American sanctions policy and possible Russian reactions to it. Kiku emphasised that the United States is likely to continue and even tighten its policy of containing Russia and China. “Russia does not form a sanctions agenda, taking the current conditions as they are, but under these conditions, decisions are possible that involve different strategic consequences,” he said. He outlined a series of “smart retorsions,” that is, asymmetric retaliatory measures that can be taken in response to sanctions.

Peter Harrell, Senior Researcher at the Center for a New American Security (USA), emphasised in his remark that the number of sanctions in the world will increase. In his opinion, an increase of sanctions imposed by different countries of the world against each other is a global trend generated by the fact that countries see the effectiveness of this tool. Sanctions work, at least in the economic sense, he stressed. At the same time, countries are increasingly aware of their strengths and understand how they use these sanctions as an asymmetric lever. In his opinion, the global economy as a whole does not suffer from sanctions – only certain countries are under attack, but the sanctions confrontation between the United States and China could have global economic consequences that will need to be somehow minimised.

Vasily Kashin, Leading Researcher at IFES RAS, described the Chinese approach to applying sanctions. According to him, this approach is quite effective and allows some countries to compel others to make the desired political decisions, even countries with large economies. Speaking about the growing tension between the United States and China, he said that in terms of countering American sanctions, China will take measures aimed at reducing the share of the dollar in China’s foreign trade and internationalising the yuan, as well as at the sanctions themselves. Kashin emphasised that for the time being, China avoided imposing sanctions against America and when it will impose them, their official part would probably be very modest and rather symbolic. However, informal measures directed against American business operating in China in sectors that are not vital to the PRC will be more dangerous and painful.

Ksenia Kirkham, a teacher at King’s College London, discussed sanctions policy conceptually and theoretically from the point of view of political economy, highlighting an instrumental and an ideological basis. She considers neo-protectionism, which is hidden behind the screen of liberal ideology, as the instrumental basis of the sanctions policy. The declared ideological goals, such as changing domestic policy, as can be seen in the example of Iran, sanctions did not achieve anything, leading only to a strengthening of the mandates, but this does not cancel their economic benefits for the introducing side. Kirkham further highlighted the main trends in the sanctions policy in the modern world, which include an increase in the number of sanctions, the tightening of existing sanctions, an increase in the number of third parties affected by US secondary sanctions, and the complication and erosion of the legal framework. In conclusion, she added that sanctions could turn into a retaliation mechanism against international organisations that dare to defend the sanctioned states.