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Economic sanctions may hurt, but they rarely deter

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(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
President Joe Biden speaks about the Russian invasion of Ukraine in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022, in Washington.

President Joe Biden unleashed a fresh round of economic sanctions against Russia Thursday as punishment for invading Ukraine, but whether or not the move is deemed successful depends on how it is measured, Northeastern experts say. Sanctions are often viewed strictly in terms of the amount of economic havoc they cause, in which case they do have a strong record of success, says Max Abrahms, associate professor of political science and an expert in international security. But if sanctions are seen as a coercive tool to pressure governments into changing their policies, then their record is not as impressive. “We need to be very clear about how we measure that,” he says.

His comments came as Biden announced new sanctions that he said would impose severe costs on the Russian economy, both immediately and over time. The president said the sanctions were designed to maximize the long-term impact on Russia and minimize the impact on the U.S. and its allies. “Putin chose war, and now he and his country will bear the consequences,” Biden said of Russian President Vladimir Putin. “We will limit Russia’s ability to do business in dollars, euros, pounds, and yen to be part of the global economy.”

Abrahms says he supports  the move as a way to lodge firm U.S. opposition to Russian aggression without overly involving the country in a conflict against a nuclear superpower.

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