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How US sanctions against Russia work

Michael Wilner, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

Import bans

Russia is, first and foremost, a commodity-based economy, relying on its sale of various energy products — oil, gas and coal — to fund the government and purchase foreign goods.

The point of banning Russian energy imports is to try to starve Moscow of revenue. Critically, the most powerful financial sanctions that were first levied against Russia at the very beginning of the war included carve-outs that exempted the oil and gas industry.

The United States was quick to ban Russian oil imports. But with those imports amounting to less than 3% of daily U.S. consumption, this had a marginal impact on both Washington and Moscow.

Far more important will be whether the European Union can agree to ban imports of Russian oil and gas.

The bloc agreed to ban Russian coal last month and is currently debating a ban on oil. But it is most reliant of all on Russian gas, and has actually increased its imports since the invasion began, providing Moscow with much-needed revenue as the war grinds on.


Export controls

U.S. sanctions with a slower burn impact the sale of products and services to Russia, such as manufacturing parts and technologies, run out of the U.S. Commerce Department.

While export controls take longer to work, they can have a sustained impact on Russia’s defense and civilian technology industries.

Washington has banned advanced the export of U.S. semiconductors, industrial engines and bulldozers, as well as parts required for the processing of nuclear and chemical materials.


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