School of Business and Economics

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28 Apr 2022

How Putin could use Western sanctions to strengthen his control over Russia

Vladimir Putin could use the impact of Western sanctions to tighten his political grasp on Russia.

This week, Russian newspapers have reported that their President is expected to scrap local elections for economic reasons and instead have the Kremlin appoint governors to the country’s 89 regions.

The Kremlin has claimed it would not be wise to spend taxpayer money on political campaigns in light of the crippling economic sanctions imposed by the West.

Professor Alistair Milne, of Loughborough’s School of Business and Economics, said that the impact of the 60-or-so sanctions – such as freezing assets and banning international travel – could be weaponised by Putin and used to his advantage.

And that state ownership of the country’s media could allow him to do this rather easily.

He said: “Many people (in Russia), especially the middle class, have lost jobs, can no longer travel, go on holiday, no longer have access to technology such as iPhones. The health service will start to feel the effects.

“The other side of morale, of course, is the morale of the population. And that's where the broad economic sanctions may or may not - it’s very difficult to tell - have the effect of turning many Russians against the war in Ukraine.

“But then on the other hand, we know how tightly the Russian system controls the media and that it could have a similar effect with what's happened with sanctions in other countries, such as Iran, for example. Where the political position of those in power has actually been strengthened by external sanctions.

“It's an external enemy and they (the Kremlin) can portray the west as attacking Russia. And that may lead to a kind of surge of patriotism, which in the short-term strengthens Putin's political position rather than weakens it.”

 

Prof Milne’s comments were made on Besieged: A podcast about Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

During the episode, Sanctions on Russia – are we doing them the right way?, he also described how the punitive measures imposed by the US, EU, UK and others would not hurt Putin’s war machine in the short term.

He said that despite the fact that around two-thirds of Russia’s foreign reserves (estimated at $600bn) are tied up overseas, Putin will still have enough money to continue his war for the foreseeable future.

“In retrospect, he’s been preparing this invasion for more than a decade.

“Putin has been in power for over 20-years, and I think he's had something like this in mind from very early in his presidency.

“So, the Russian military have got their own energy resources.

“They've got grain, which they can feed their troops with. They've shown a lot of weakness, militarily, but still they can keep going as long as they've got manpower and munitions.

“Foreign exchange isn't going to make much difference to that in the near term. Although longer term, it could make a difference.”

 

To listen to the episode, visit Apple PodcastsSpotifyAmazon Music, TuneIn+Alexa and YouTube.

Besieged is produced by Dane Vincent and hosted by Peter Warzynski and invites experts from Loughborough University to discuss wide-ranging issues linked to the war in Ukraine.