Foreign PolicyForeign Policy

How to Take Down a Tyrant

By Jeffrey Sonnenfeld and Steven Tian

10 Aug 2022 · 11 min read

Editor's Note

You should read this opinion piece as it describes three powerful moves that the West can take in order to manage Putin.

Cynics have been quick to sound off over the supposed inefficacy of multinational business retreats and global government sanctions in changing the behavior of brutal autocrats such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, pointing to ineffective examples such as Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, Syria, and North Korea. French politician Marine Le Pen recently called for an end to “useless” sanctions on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine, echoing a Guardian columnist who declared that “Western sanctions against Russia are the most ill-conceived and counterproductive policy in recent international history.” The New York Times’ Paul Krugman, too, selectively listed examples of ineffective economic embargoes reaching far back into the 19th century in a recent op-ed.

However, our 42-person research team, which includes teams of researchers on the ground in Russia and across Eurasia, and with crucial contributions from Franek Sokolowski and Michal Wyrebkowski, found in a comprehensive analysis that the Russian economy is already under serious strain. Yet  we continue to hear that an authoritarian regime can always simply ignore the economic distress and outlast Western liberal democracies in a “war of attrition.”

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