Lisa D. Cook, an associate professor of economics and international relations at Michigan State University, lead a lecture Wednesday at U-M that discussed the effectiveness of U.S. sanctions against Russia and explored U.S.-Russian relations from an economic standpoint. The event was organized by the University of Michigan Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies amid a swirl of news headlines around the country’s interference in U.S. elections.

CREES Director Geneviève Zubrzycki introduced the talk, which was one of over 10 events the center has planned for fall semester, all with an overarching theme of current global relations.

“This year we prepared a program that mixes lectures that engage with current affairs,” Zubrzycki said. “We strive to always bring discussions of very recent issues by specialists.”

Cook began her lecture educating the audience about the Russian economy, examining the gradual fall in gross domestic product per capita and rising inflation, with emphasis on the more recent 20 percent fall of the ruble in relation to the U.S. dollar in the past year. Cook also discussed the disadvantages of the Russian economic structure, outlining its dependence on oil as its main export, capital flight and corruption.

After providing information on Russia’s previous and current economic troubles, Cook detailed the history of U.S. economic action against Russia. She brought to attention the notable March 2014 sanctions in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, December 2016 sanctions in response to Russian interference in U.S elections and August 2018 sanctions in response to the poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. These sanctions freeze assets and prohibit transactions with specific individuals, which in many cases are Putin’s associates, Russian government officials and Russian oligarchs. Cook explained the effectiveness of sanctions remains relative but cited a 1.5 percent decline of real GDP in Russia, solely from U.S. and European Union sanctions.

“What Russia might be experiencing if these sanctions are effective is the undermining of economic growth,” she said.

Cook also noted varying levels of unrest within Russian society as living standards remain stagnant or even decline. She referenced the recent protests against the Russian government in response to a proposal to raise retirement age from 60 to 65 for men and 55 to 60 for women.  

“My sense is that what was underground before, in terms of economic discontent, is just bubbling to the surface. Pension reform is something that has not been a partisan issue. There were all kinds of people protesting on Sunday,” Cook said. “There has been a rupture in the social compact that is leading to the agitation of people and the breaking of this agreement not to protest or argue for more democracy.”

Community High School student Ben Clingenpeel, an Ann Arbor resident, said he attended the lecture to learn more about the current state of relations between the U.S and Russia.

“This is a topic I’ve been gaining interest in, as I think a lot of people in this country have,” he said.  “I’m trying to stay informed.”

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