Skepticism towards the efficacy of sanctions is wide-spread, and in fact most of the literature to be found on the topic is deeply pessimistic. Thus, three years into the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and after the European Union and allies imposed sanctions on Moscow, it is hardly surprising that those measures did not lead to the targeted outcomes. The EU is particularly clear in stating that the sanctions are targeting Russia’s leading political individuals with visa bans and asset freezes, while the country’s industries relevant for Moscow’s foreign policy campaign in Ukraine, its major energy and defence companies, are targeted by limited economic sanctions. Additionally, the access to Western financing is now closed for major Russian banks. Hence, these sanctions are not aimed at Russia’s general population, and are constructed as smart sanctions which attempt to raise the costs for the political elite inside Russia, while abandoning the logics of collective punishment.
However, the smart sanctions are likely to not be that smart after all, and in fact even counterproductive. Here is why.