How Much Will Russian Sanctions Hurt The EU?

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Will the sanctions imposed by the U.S. and EU have serious economic consequences? NPR's Scott Simon takes up the question with Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. U.S. and European leaders have been weighing how to try to tighten economic screws on Russia following its seizure of Crimea. But how much economic pain can the U.S. inflict on Russia without hurting itself in return? We're joined now by Ian Bremmer, who's president of the global risk research firm Eurasia Group. He joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

IAN BREMMER: Scott, delighted to be with you.

SIMON: So far, the sanctions are aimed at certain politicians and officials rather than government - the Russian government as a whole. What impact do you think that might have?

BREMMER: Well, because they've now actually extended that to include a couple of oligarchs and one state bank, it's going to have one major impact; which is, we will see capital flight from Russian oligarchs across the board out of the United States, and out of Europe. So that's fairly significant. I'm not sure it's what the U.S. wants to see but clearly, it...

SIMON: That sounds like it's hurting us, not them.

BREMMER: Well, I mean, they'd prefer to be in the states and London. There's no question about that. I mean, if you start actually seizing their very expensive apartments and mansions, they're not going to be happy. Putin's response to the oligarchs was immediate and was basically, well, you guys need to bring your assets back home. That's your patriotic duty.

SIMON: How might Russia respond?

BREMMER: They've responded immediately, in terms of a symmetric response. Clearly, the Kremlin was expecting this, so they threw sanctions on a commensurate number of American politicos.

SIMON: Who were wearing that label proudly this weekend.

BREMMER: As were many of the Russians. I mean, this is completely tit-for-tat. It's very zero sum. The escalation is clear. But to be very straightforward about it, there's no amount of economic damage the U.S. and Europe is going to do to Russia that comes remotely close to their perception of how important Ukraine is to them, and that's the problem. This is thoroughly asymmetric.

SIMON: Well, let me get you to go with that a little because of course, this is the American and Western response, at the moment.

BREMMER: Yeah, yeah. I mean, in fact, Secretary Kerry said all options were on the table, but then Obama immediately said that there was no possibility of military excursion, and that they weren't planning on providing military support for the Ukrainians. So it would be useful if the Americans got their speaking points together. But yeah, clearly, Ukraine is important to the U.S. But what we're talking about are limited economic sanctions that we intend to ratchet up over time. That is just a misread of what Ukraine means to Putin.

SIMON: Ian Bremmer - his latest book, "Every Nation For Itself." He's also president of the Eurasia Group. Thanks so much for being with us.

BREMMER: My pleasure, Scott.


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