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‘Sanctions don’t work on Russia’: Why there’s skepticism over the U.S.’ warnings on Ukraine

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Slapping sanctions on Russia may not be helpful in resolving tensions with the U.S. over Ukraine, two experts said on Tuesday.

“Sanctions don’t work on Russia,” said Tony Brenton, a former British ambassador to Russia. “Russia just becomes even more obdurate.”

In response, the West also gets more stubborn, he added. “And you’re that little bit closer to a really, very dangerous security confrontation,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia.”

Angela Stent, director emerita of Georgetown University’s Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies, likewise told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” that the threat of sanctions hasn’t put Russia off.

That’s in spite of the proposed punitive measures being “pretty comprehensive,” she said, affecting technology exports and banks’ access to the international financial system.

“Those have all been explicitly now talked about in the U.S,” she said. “That doesn’t seem to have deterred Russia at all.”

If Russian President Vladimir Putin decides to invade Ukraine, “I’m not sure that the prospect of those sanctions is going to deter him,” Stent added.

Russian troops have amassed at the border near Ukraine, sparking fears of a repeat of Moscow’s illegal annexation and occupation of Crimea in 2014. Russia has denied such claims, saying it has a right to place troops where it likes within its own territory.

Stent said a Russian invasion of Ukraine could still happen. “Let’s say, 50-50 at the moment,” she said, adding that it could be a “more limited invasion” rather than a massive one.

“That danger still lies there,” she said.

The United States and Russia held talks in Geneva on Monday, and discussions are set to continue between the Russia Council and NATO in Brussels on Wednesday, followed by a Thursday session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna.

Brenton, the former U.K. ambassador, said both Russia and the U.S. want to avoid a military confrontation. He said Russia is weaker and “just want what they see as their interests accommodated.”

U.S. President Joe Biden regards China, not Russia, as the “core security challenge to the United States.”

“Getting entangled in a major confrontation with Russia actually makes dealing with China much more complicated,” he said.

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