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Alexander Cooley in Foreign Affairs: “The Power of Stigma: Shaming Russian Elites Has Helped Weaken Putin”
October 27, 2022

Alexander Cooley (Claire Tow Professor of Political Science, Barnard College) coauthored an article with Brook Harrington in Foreign Affairs about stigma-based sanctions and how they affect Russian elites.

“Pariah status is a powerful motivator in foreign affairs. Being expelled by an international community of peers can irreversibly damage the reputation of countries and individuals alike. Yet the impact of stigma remains underappreciated by policymakers and scholars. Many Western commentators have been skeptical about the individual sanctions imposed on Russia’s oligarchs following the invasion of Ukraine, which included freezing assets, blocking transactions, and banning travel. Early in the war, the economist Robert Reich wrote that it was “proving difficult to use sanctions on specific oligarchs to get Putin to stop,” arguing that such figures don’t wield enough influence over the Kremlin to directly affect policy.

This analysis misses the purpose of stigma-based sanctions. Unlike traditional economic or political sanctions, which seek to coerce or punish governments and thus change their conduct, status-based sanctions are designed to destabilize rogue regimes by fragmenting the interests of elites. The objective is not to produce a specific change in regime conduct but, rather, to compel elites to distance themselves from the regime and withdraw their unwavering public support, shattering the illusion of control that sustains strongmen such as Russian President Vladimir Putin—and, eventually, making them vulnerable to being deposed.” Read the full article.