Why Tougher U.S. Sanctions Will Increase Putin's Popularity
I have lived in Russia for about fifteen years. Therefore, I have a pretty good understanding of Russian mentality. This has led me to believe that the U.S. sanctions – no matter how harsh – may lead only to one consequence: consolidation of support Vladimir Putin is enjoying among the Russian population. Below I put the reasons for my opinion.
Reason #1: Russians are used to tough life.
Suppose there is a next round of U.S. sanctions, which would target such critical areas of Russia's economy as the banking, mining, and energy sectors. Let's also suppose that it will decrease the income of the average Russian – which is doubtful. Then, when the average Russian finds himself with a slightly decreased income, he is going to laugh about it. An average Russian has far more troublesome issues to worry about.
But don't take my words for granted. Read the opinions of experts:
Everyday life for Russian people has historically been grueling, a fight for existence. Their hardships were reflected in their expressiveness, and deep concern, along with a tangle of worry lines, became entrenched on their faces. Russia ranked 167th out of 178 countries on a 'World Map of Happiness,' a 2007 survey of 80,000 people worldwide that measured a nation's level of happiness by factors most closely associated with the emotions, such as health, wealth, and education.
This low level of happiness may cause rampant nationalism. There is a study that points out a correlation between the two:
Individuals with low income and those in poor countries may find patriotism appealing as a way of consoling themselves in rough times... Moreover, nationalism can be very strong in the toughest of times.
Both of these conditions apply to Russia. This is of course a boon for Putin and his allies. Therefore, tougher U.S. sanctions would simply heighten the level of Russian nationalism.
Reason #2: Increasing nationalism will deepen anti-Americanism.
The rampant nationalism – the causes of which I discussed above – will deepen the feelings of anti-Americanism. There is a very good soil for that:
About 60 percent of Russians believe there were more positive than negative aspects to life in the former Soviet Union, an opinion poll suggests. Moreover, 43 percent would have welcomed Russia's re-adopting the communist ideology.
Who destroyed the Soviet Union, the expression of that communism? The United States, at least according to the vast majority of Russians. I remember hearing various people say just this (when I was back in Russia). Also, there was a popular Russian documentary that showed the economic war the United States waged against the Soviet Union. Its main point was that the United States artificially lowered the price of oil, so the Soviet government could not provide for its people. And the people – not having enough to eat – rebelled against it. Whether it is true or not is highly debatable. But many Russians believed it.
This was just one documentary. Russia's government, on the other hand, has an iron grip on the whole gamut of Russia's mass media. Recently, with the purchase of Russia's biggest social network by Putin's allies, it has grown even stronger. So "the Kremlin can now rest easy; any restive opposition activity on the Internet can easily be brought under control."
Let's refrain from russophobia, however. Both Russia's and America's mass media have done a wonderful job pitting these two peoples one against the other. Indeed, they have taught these two peoples to view each other as enemies. The result is widespread hatred on both sides.
"According to a new Gallup poll, 60 percent of Americans don't like Russia. It is most hate that Russia has garnered since Gallup started the poll 20-years ago."
Another poll "indicated that 24 percent of respondents worldwide consider the U.S. the largest threat in the world... but a much larger 54 percent of Russians felt the same way. This means that Russia exceeded the global average by more than two times... Even more surprising, twice as many Russians than Iraqis and Afghans see the U.S. as a threat, despite the fact that the U.S. led the invasions of both of these countries in the past decade."
Reason #3: Russians feel grateful for the annexation of Crimea.
As a Russian, I was raised with an understanding that Crimea should be a part of the Russian Federation. This said, I neither approve nor condemn the annexation of Crimea. I simply am aware that the vast majority of Russians have welcomed the annexation of Crimea as an act of heroism.
If you want to know why Russians thought that Crimea should be a part of Russia, consider this: Crimea has been a part of Russian territory for more than two centuries. Then Khrushchev gave it to Ukraine as a gift. At the time, it was just a formality: both Russia and Ukraine were part of the Soviet Union. But after the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia and Ukraine became two separate states. That's when the Russian people got really angry at Khrushchev. Some even called him "a Ukrainian traitor"; I clearly remember these two words. One time I finally asked why and was told that he betrayed Russia's interests because he wanted to help his own birthplace, at the expense of Russia.
Reason #4: There is a good Reason to believe that the tougher sanctions won't work.
Nothing like this has ever happened before. The last – second – round of sanctions was truly unprecedented:
“'There is no direct precedent,' Hufbauer (expert at the Institute for International Economics) said in a phone interview. 'I cannot remember one [case] where that’s been successful.'“
This is important, because where there is little experience there is also the potential for enormous ineptitude. You may argue otherwise, but if you look at the history of any nation, you will see that the vast majority of initial attempts have failed.
Roman loves film and Web Development. Thus, he writes screenplays and developes sites. When not doing either of these, he updates his humor-sharing site Humoropedia.com and its sister site dedicated to insightful quotes: Quotes.Humoropedia.com. He can be found on social media at google.com/+RomanMarshanski.