UN expert: Russian sanctions can have an impact, but will take time

Karen Alter has two important reasons for paying particular attention to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

First, as the Norman Dwight Harris Professor of International Relations at Northwestern University, studying and analyzing major world events is his job.

But second, his 25-year-old newborn is currently in Ukraine and, together with his Ukrainian girlfriend, is trying to get out.

When Evanston Now spoke to Alter late Thursday afternoon, the couple were heading towards the Polish border.

Alter says that until recently she could “not convince” her nephew that “Putin was serious” about the invasion.

But, Alter added, “you don’t need 150,000 troops for two breakaway regions,” the regions in eastern Ukraine that Putin recently recognized as independent.

“Those two regions won’t be enough for him,” Alter said.

Putin, Alter noted, is trying to recreate the former might and glory of the Soviet Union by attacking Ukraine. While he might not occupy that nation, she said, he would likely try to install a puppet regime that would take orders from Russia and also recognize Putin’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. .

Putin once said that the breakup of the Soviet Union was “a major geopolitical catastrophe” and, according to Alter, the Russian leader “now sees himself on a higher level – Lenin, Stalin and him”.

“Russia,” Alter added, “is scary, imperial, and delusional.”

Ironically, Alter notes, Putin “issued a set of demands that were completely non-existent in the West,” such as rolling back NATO and never admitting Ukraine, and served to unify the United States and its European allies.

“Putin just reminded everyone why we need NATO,” she added.

Alter said there is a clear difference between military resistance and economic and political sanctions.

In a situation like this, she said there was really no way for Ukraine to win a military war against the much larger and more advanced Russian forces.

But sanctions, she said, “are a different kind of tool, which can help turn the tide in a longer war.”

Economic and political weapons, Alter added, “could prevent Putin from making Ukraine a permanent client state.”

Of course, it won’t be easy.

President Joe Biden is blocking Russia’s access to Western funding, cutting tech exports and sacrificing some Russian elites.

“The sanction strategy will be a wave, a cascade”, she explained, which continues to “tighten the noose”. around the Russian leader.

But while some have called for targeted sanctions against Putin himself, Alter isn’t sure that would have much impact.

“You can bet he has his assets in cryptocurrency, or in Switzerland,” she said.

A potential sanction that has not been implemented, at least not yet, is to block Russia’s access to the SWIFT currency transfer system, which allows money to cross borders from one account to another.

Based in Brussels, SWIFT sanctions force European nations to follow.

Alter also said China is watching Ukraine’s invasion very closely because if Russia gets away with it, China could go after Taiwan.

On the other hand, if China views the Ukrainian incursion as a failure, it could tell Putin it’s time to stop.

Even if Russia takes control of Ukraine, come what may, Alter said there is still a way for the Ukrainians to fight back.

“Asymmetric guerrilla warfare” can wreak havoc on Russian troops.

“The only military strategy that can work,” she noted, “is to send a lot of Russians home in body bags.”

Add Russian casualties to the invasion, Alter said, “and the Russians will say why are we doing this?”

“The more it costs,” Alter added, “the more the Russian people will say that our leader has lost his mind?”