Biden Officials Concerned Russia Sanctions Hurting Ordinary People More Than Putin

History shows sanctions hurt civilians and cause shortages of humanitarian goods despite exemptions

Bloomberg reported on Tuesday that some Biden administration officials are privately expressing concern that sanctions on Russia are worsening the global food crisis, exacerbating inflation, and hurting ordinary Russians more than President Vladimir Putin and his inner circle.

History has shown that US sanctions and other economic pressure do little to change the targeted government and always hurt civilian populations. For example, Cuba has been under a US economic embargo since 1962, but the same government remains in power decades later while the people have suffered.

The US typically targets smaller countries with the harsh sanctions it has imposed on Russia, such as Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, and Syria. But the sanctions campaign against Russia, the world’s 11th largest economy by Gross Domestic Product, has also had a significant impact on the economies of the US and Europe, a consequence President Biden warned Americans to be prepared for.

The Bloomberg report said that the Biden administration was surprised by the number of Western companies that decided to exit Russia and stop doing business with the country altogether, even if sanctions allowed it. The exodus has caused supply chain bottlenecks and uninsurable grain exports, among other issues.

According to the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute, about 1,000 companies have ended or limited their business in Russia. This has left assets behind that the Russian government could take control of and left markets open that Russian firms can now enter with less competition.

History also tells us that international banks and businesses tend not to do business with countries targeted by heavy US sanctions over fears of violating them, even if there are exemptions for certain goods. For example, US sanctions on Iran technically have exemptions for medical supplies and other humanitarian goods, but they still cause medicine shortages.

In a statement last year on medical shortages in Iran, a group of UN experts said: “Many banks and businesses, including pharmaceutical and medical companies around the world, over-comply with sanctions out of fear of potential penalties.”

But Biden administration officials are still acting surprised by the fact that Western sanctions are disrupting the supply of exempted goods. Fertilizer is exempt from sanctions, but Russia’s export of the commodity has dropped 24% this year. Bloomberg reported Monday that the US is now quietly encouraging shipping companies and agricultural companies to purchase and transport more Russian fertilizer to lower global food costs.

Author: Dave DeCamp

Dave DeCamp is the news editor of, follow him on Twitter @decampdave.