Few dispute that sanctions have caused at least some economic pain to Russia. Of course, economic effects are only a means to an end, i.e. to persuade Russia to change its behaviour. According to some theories, sanctions indirectly pressure governments by causing economic pain to the general population, encouraging people to demand change. In practice, however, this rarely happens, as public opinion in sanctioned countries tends to ‘rally around the flag’ in defiance of international pressure. Surveys suggest that this also happened in Russia. In the initial aftermath of sanctions, Vladimir Putin’s approval ratings soared, and an overwhelming majority (over 70 %) opposed making concessions in order to get sanctions lifted. Several years later, approval of Putin has faded, but so has the perceived impact of sanctions (Figure 7). Most Russians blame the latter on the West, rather than their own leaders.
Sanctions and Russian public opinion, 2014-2021
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