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To make Russia sanctions effective, West must re-establish Soviet-era watchdog COCOM – historian

Russia sanctions effective
Credit: depositphotos
To make Russia sanctions effective, West must re-establish Soviet-era watchdog COCOM – historian
The difficulties the European Union has had in reaching new agreements on sanctions shows that the current ad hoc arrangements for reaching decisions about such punishments on Russia are running out of steam. And it appears that the EU and the West more generally face serious problems in imposing any new sanctions. An institution similar to the COCOM sanctions watchdog, set up during the Cold War to block the export of military and dual-use goods to the Soviet bloc, could now ensure that the western sanctions regime is more effective.

Given that sanctions are the primary weapon the West is using against Russia and given that the existing ones have not yet led to a change in Putin’s behavior, the Russian historian Boris Sokolov says, it is time to restore something like COCOM, the institution set up during the Cold War to block the export of military and dual-use goods to the Soviet bloc.

COCOM, the Coordinating Committee for Export Controls, worked throughout the Cold War and was quite successful in restricting the flow of such goods to Moscow and its satellites. (On its operation, see M. Mastadano’s Economic Containment (Ithaca, 1992) and E. Noehrenberg, Multilateral Export Controls and International Regime Theory (Sinzheim, 1995).)

While the situation in the West is now different than it was during the Cold War – the dominance of the US is far less, and Russian influence on economic actors within Western countries is far greater – a COCOM-like institution could play a key role in ensuring that the sanctions regime this time around will be more effective than it currently appears.

How to make sanctions really painful for Russia, immediately

As Putin’s war in Ukraine passed its 100th day, Sokolov makes two other observations that are critical but that have not received the attention they deserve. On the one hand, he points out, Moscow has used the forces it has mobilized from the DNR and LNR as the real canon fodder in this war, with losses there far greater in percentage terms than for the Russian army.

And on the other, he suggests, if arms from the West arrive in an insufficient quantity and Ukraine only partially succeeds in pushing back Russian forces from where they are now, it is entirely likely that the conflict will assume a drawn-old positional war less like the frozen conflicts around Russia now than like the situation in the Korean peninsula after 1953.

Sokolov’s observations on all three points highlight the importance of viewing Putin’s war in Ukraine from a broader and more historical perspective than is typically the case.


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