Do Russian People Deserve to Suffer?: Russia’s citizens are being punished for the actions of the country.

As economic sanctions have been imposed upon Russia, I aim to better understand the ethics of imposing sanctions and how this will and has affected Russian people. However, I hope to do so without diverting attention away from the destruction and displacement that Ukraine is experiencing. 

Economic sanctions have been a long-standing element of international relations. They are defined as the implementation of commercial and financial penalties in response to a wide array of economic, military, political and social issues. Following the Cold War, sanctions were used more frequently as a way of dealing with serious conflict with another country. Sanctions inflict serious damage on the nations they are imposed upon. This is exemplified by the sanctions imposed on Iraq from 1990 to 2003, noted as causing the worst harm. UNICEF reported that an estimated 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five died from malnutrition and disease following the imposed economic sanctions. Although these sanctions were meant to undermine dictator Saddam Hussein’s power, they strengthened his control as the government became the main lifeline of goods and income.

After devastation resulting from imposed sanctions in Iraq, various organizations started to investigate alternative responses, specifically responses that did not harm everyday citizens. “Targeted” economic sanctions were introduced as a way of targeting those believed to be morally responsible without also hurting everyday people. “Targeted” economic sanctions may include, for example, freezing the assets of government officials or banning trade on weapons to deter violence. While targeted economic sanctions are not harmless and perhaps unethical, the harm caused is less extensive to the nation’s citizens. 

While exploring the ethics of imposing sanctions, my basis for understanding this complex issue derived from a series of questions: Is it ethical to pursue such sanctions on Russia? Is punishing Russia necessary in diminishing harm despite being unethical? If the implementation of sanctions on Russia is considered unethical, then what are the alternatives to prevent Russia’s invasion? I would like to emphasize that I do not have the answers to these questions, rather I have included details about what is happening and the repercussions they may cause. 

In response to Putin ordering troops to invade eastern Ukraine, the country’s stocks and currency severely declined as the stock market shut down. The European Union, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada have imposed sanctions that blocked widely-used Russian banks from SWIFT. Russians watched their savings deplete as the Moscow stock exchange eroded. Similar to Iraq, academics theorize that, as Russia’s economy continues to spiral, this allows for Putin to gain more power. Samuel Goldman, George Washington University professor of political science, forewarned, “Even when sanctions succeed in destabilizing the regimes they target, new dictators may come to power under conditions of economic collapse and social disorder.” 

Although a flight ban and visa ban is not formally in place as of now, the fear of this transpiring would be especially horrifying for LGBTQ+ people in Russia. LGBTQ+ people living in Russia have been known to experience widespread homophobic harrassment and discimination. In 2017, hundreds of gay men were taken by security forces and tortured at an unknown detention site. Multiple men were never seen again and are presumed to have been killed. If a flight ban and visa ban is enacted as a form of economic sanction, this could mean dire consequences for the LGBTQ+ people living in Russia seeking refuge from oppressive forces. 

While I have much more research to do surrounding this matter, the conclusion that I have come to thus far is as follows: the sanctions currently enacted on Russia are unethical. These sanctions serve as a breeding ground for further dictatorship of Putin over Russia. However, I am inconclusive regarding whether these sanctions would prevent further harm from Russia on Ukraine. If these sanctions would prevent further harm on Ukraine, would this classify their implementation as unethical yet necessary? 

I would like to reiterate that I do not aim to divert attention away from what is happening in Ukraine. For my philosophy surrounding this article is as follows: Perhaps it is the capacity to stand in the place of our enemy that permits us the freedom and the focus to be a constructive advocate for healing, instead of a perpetual partisan at arms. 

Source: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, CNN, Aljazeera