Following the Ryanair incident, pretty much all Belarusian exports are now banned by the EU, its key trade partner (including oil products and potassium). Putin now has other pressing matters to attend to, other than bailing out Lukashenka. Why is his regime still holding out? Are there any indications that he evades the sanctions, for example by exporting through third parties?


1 Answer 1


Sanctions almost never lead to a regime change even when they are economically devastating.

An authoritarian regime does not need to be economically successful to stay in power. This is precisely because the regimes are authoritarian and hence people simply can’t vote authoritarian leaders out of power. Authoritarian leaders mainly need the support of military and empirically that can be achieved even with complete disintegration of economy, famines and mass starvations (eg Venezuela or North Korea). As to how dictators manage to keep support of the military is a question more suited to be answered by political science or psychology. From economic perspective people care also about their relative economic well-being so even when economy is collapsing military can be promised relatively better treatment to the rest of society.

Cuba and North Korea are being sanctioned for more than half century and there was no regime change in either places (aside from generational change). Sanctions did not change regime in Venezuela (despite of total economic collapse), Syria or Iran.

Also although Belarus is the 5th most sanctioned country (see statista), it has only 1/3 of sanctions Iran faces and about 1/11 of what is Russia facing now. Russia was already sanction twice as much as Belarus after annexation of Crimea in 2014 and it also did not had any regime change (at least not yet).

Careful empirical studies also show that economic sanctions almost never lead to regime change. Even theoretically they do not have that effect (see Oechslin 2014 and sources cited therein for empirical results).

In summary, economic sanctions in Belarus did not work because:

  1. Models show that economic sanctions are not good at toppling autocratic regimes.

  2. There is no solid empirical evidence for sanctions being effective at toppling autocratic regimes. In fact empirics show that economic sanctions are generally impotent when it comes to regime change.

  3. Sanctions at Belarus are not that bad. They are much less worse than sanctions levied on Syria, Iran or North Korea (all relatively small countries).

Consequently, there is no reason to think economic sanctions alone should topple Lukashenko.

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  • $\begingroup$ It doesn't address the specific case of Belarus enough. How does Lukashenka still earn money? He sold processed Russian oil and potassium, that was pretty much it. Did China give him a hand somehow? 'cause Putin had been quite stingy with Lukashenka even before the war, let alone now $\endgroup$ Sep 3, 2022 at 18:27
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    $\begingroup$ This is a very unsatisfying answer. The OP has noticed sanction have not brought about a collapse of the regime and asks why. Your answer is "because sanctions don't work". Do we not know why they don't work? $\endgroup$
    – BrsG
    Sep 3, 2022 at 18:51
  • $\begingroup$ @SergeyZolotarev he does not need to earn a lot of money to stay in power. Venezuelan economy completely collapsed people were eating rats, there were even reports of cannibalism in Venezuela yet Maduro is still in power. An authoritarian regime can stay in power even while economy is collapsing in North Korea most people live like in medieval times and the regime is still in power. Putin helps with repressing local population with secret service/army, economy is inconsequential to survival of authoritarian regime $\endgroup$
    – 1muflon1
    Sep 3, 2022 at 19:43
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    $\begingroup$ I think there can be self-selection bias. It can be that regimes (including authoritarian ones) that would expect to NOT survive economic downturn/collapse caused by sanctions would avoid getting heavily sanctioned (or sanctioned at all) at the first place. $\endgroup$ Sep 4, 2022 at 5:35
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    $\begingroup$ I like this "unsatisfying" answer (: $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    Sep 4, 2022 at 14:16

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