Why Russia is shrugging off sanctions

The current crisis and the sanctions game pushes Russia to develop new foreign trade relations

Maria Dubovikova
Maria Dubovikova
Published: Updated:
Read Mode
100% Font Size
8 min read

After the U.S., the EU and some other countries imposed sanctions against Russia, it was most likely that they expected that it would surrender and change its political course. Perhaps they expected that Russia would renounce its independent foreign policy and start behaving like a “civilized“ country, as British Prime Minister David Cameron once said.

However, it has appeared that the West severely miscalculated. However, this is not astonishing as in his recent interview with The Economist, President Obama used outdated data on Russia. Perhaps this means that his advisors also do. Thus the response to imposed sanctions appeared to be almost completely opposite to what was expected. Russia reacted with an embargo, a “smart response” as it was called, demonstrating it is not going to yield to the external pressure.

The current crisis and the sanctions game... pushes Russia to develop new foreign trade relations

Maria Doubovikova

“Russia is introducing a full embargo on the import of beef, pork, fruit and vegetable pro-duce, poultry, fish, cheese, milk and dairy products from the European Union, United States, Australia, Canada and Norway,” Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev an-nounced on Thursday. This measure hits one of the EU’s weak points - that it is still over-coming the economic crisis in the agricultural sector. It has become a good reminder for the Europeans - as they share the continent with Russia, not with the U.S. - that Russia is traditionally one of the key consumers of the EU’s products, especially of several of its member states. For the U.S., the Russian embargo is not as painful as it is for the Europeans, however it does strike the fowl sector, as Russia is the second largest importer.

Russia and the EU

For many years, Russia was trying to be a good partner of the EU and tried to cement stable relations with the U.S., especially on the wave of the “reset” in relations. It also tried forgoing its national interests for numerous gains promised by its Western partners. The current crisis has shown that these gains are small and elusive, but the risks of its dependence on the West (for example in terms of food security) are rather high, taking into account the possible unleashing of a new Cold War.

The current crisis and the sanctions game, which for the moment don’t have a visible end and could escalate further, pushes Russia to develop new foreign trade relations, and also pushes it to intensify its relations with partners primarily within the Eurasian Customs Union (that gives a new impulse to further intensive development of the Union), in the Middle East, with the BRICS member-states and with the countries of Latin America.

Among the beneficiaries of the EU-Russia row is Turkey. Despite its NATO membership, it has an independent policy that permits it to decide its fate and policy. For Turkey, transitioning from a “passive” to “active” economy is a new possibility as Russia seeks new importers. The same trade interest is common for Latin American countries interested in intensifying trading cooperation with Russia. Uruguay has already announced that it will use any possibility to extend its volume of import to Russia. Russia is planning to import meat and dairy produce from there. The import of meat from Australia could be substituted by products from New Zealand. Fruits will come from countries in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. Products from all these regions are already common for Russian consumers. But volumes of imports are expected to rise.

At the same time, despite expectations of significant positive dynamics in the trade between Russia and Latin America countries, some experts are rather skeptical about further trade expansion as the capacities of Latin American markets have limits as well as the Latin American food industry itself.

However, it should not be forgotten that Russia has the ability to substitute imports with its own products. The embargo has already encouraged Russian agricultural and food producers that have seen in lack of state support over recent years.

It should be clear that the current seeking of partners to substitute the EU’s and the U.S.’s supplies is purley about business and partnership, not about building alliances.

Current crisis

For sure, the current crisis and trade partnership, in case of successful and sustainable development, could lead to political cooperation and the deepening of political ties between Russia and third world countries as well as with powers seeking multi-polarity and independence from Western influence.

The current, seemingly successful, bid to seek out import substitutes can lay the foundation for political changes in Russia’s foreign policy priorities as well as in the construction of new intensive sectors of international cooperation and partnership. However, being neighbors and living on one continent, Europe will always be a key partner for Russia, as well as Russia for Europeans, as history and common existence are always the best basis of cooperation. European countries and Russia would not be able to sustain the current low level of relations for a long time. It is not in the interest either of Russia or of the European states. The sooner the rhetoric is changed, the better for the West itself and for Russia. However, to restore trust between the players will be extremely difficult The responsibility to stop the current sanctions crisis lays on Western shoulders, as it was not Russia who started the issue. Russia can be talked to, but not dictated to. It seeks stability in Eurasian space more than any other country.

As for the moment, the crisis is still going on. The European countries, as well as the U.S., will hardly find alternatives in the near future to resolve the issue as Russia usually buys their products ( finding sellers is always easier than finding customers). Anyway, they will waste much money and products before they find their new consumers. In this case, why not use the products nobly? So many people are starving all over the world, in international conflicts and in poorer states, which are suffering. Why not send them unexpected humanitarian aid?


Maria Dubovikova is a co-founder of IMESClub (International Middle Eastern Studies Club), IMESClub Executive Director and member of the Club Council, author of several scientific articles and participant of several high level international conferences. She is a permanent member of the Think-tank under the American University in Moscow. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia) (honors diploma), she had been working for three months as a trainee at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) in Paris. Now she is a PhD Candidate at MGIMO (Department of International Relations and Foreign Policy of Russia). Her research field is Russian foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, the policy of France and the US towards the Mediterranean, theory of international relations, humanitarian interventions and etc. Fluently speaks and writes in French and English. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
Top Content Trending