Inside Russia, the sanctions have created a good deal of elite anger, some directed at Europe, the United States and Browder, but some directed, quietly, at Putin himself. Even Russian businessmen not immediately affected by the sanctions say they are far more constrained now in what they can do — and they know whom to blame. The Canadian decision on Magnitsky sanctions will add to the conviction that this won’t end soon. The gloom is building, adding to a broader sense that Putin’s Ukraine policy was a mistake and has to be amended. And this, of course, was the point of the sanctions in the first place.
I still think we need a more profound change in our policy toward Russia, one that focuses far more broadly on protecting U.S. and European politics and business from Russian corruption and manipulation, and indeed from corruption and manipulation coming from other authoritarian states. But it’s a mistake to imagine that sanctions have no impact. It was foolish for the State Department, in an amateurish attempt at consolidation, to shut down its office on sanctions. This is a sophisticated policy tool, it has its place, and it’s having an effect. Russia’s spitting fury is the proof.