Financial sanctions imposed on Russia since its 2014 seizure of Crimea have hit President Vladimir Putin and his cronies where it hurts most—in the wallet. The most recent actions will freeze the U.S.-based assets of certain top Russian officials, arms dealers, and oligarchs in Putin’s orbit, as well as banning American citizens from conducting business with these individuals. This comes on top of other measures that have already made it harder for Russian entities to raise money on Western financial markets. Russian Eurobond issues in 2017, at $20.6 billion, were 55 percent lower than the $46.5 billion issued in 2013.
Russia’s well-documented bad behavior, from the confirmed use of a sophisticated Russian chemical agent to try to murder former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in England in March 2018 to the publication of further details about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, are leading to talk about further measures to increase the financial pain on Moscow. Proposals range from publicizing the details of the billions of dollars Putin is believed to have stashed in overseas accounts, to removing Russian banks from the SWIFT system, which allows banks worldwide to share information on transactions—a step that would impose an effective financial embargo on Moscow.
I agree that Putin’s domestic repression, foreign aggression, and all-around kleptocracy deserve tougher responses than the West has offered so far; depriving this despicable regime of dollars, euros, pounds, and yen would be an appropriate option to consider. I wonder, though, whether any thought has been given to the potential for Russian retaliation, particularly measures that would draw on the cyber expertise and operational boldness they continue to flaunt.