Public Forum

January Public Forum Topic Analysis – Russian Sanctions

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Russian Sanctions Transcript:

Welcome to Debate Clash, we’re dedicated to providing forensics resources to every student that needs them. If you want to learn, you should have the ability to.

In this video we’ll be looking at the resolution Resolved: On balance, economic sanctions are reducing the threat Russia poses to Western interests. We’ll start by defining what the resolution is talking about and then addressing the major arguments you’ll be seeing this next month.

Defining the resolution: Resolved: On balance, economic sanctions are reducing the threat Russia poses to Western interests

The first part of the resolution you will notice are the words “On Balance.” Don’t let this little phrase confuse you. This is generally used as a framework or resolution analysis argument to say that we should weigh the costs and the benefits.

The next part of the resolution refers to economic sanctions. I prefer the definition from the Council on Foreign Relations which says “Economic sanctions are defined as the withdrawal of customary trade and financial relations for foreign and security policy purposes.” It’s a mouthful, but I think it explains economic sanctions exceptionally well. Anytime a nation restricts the way that trade is done that is an economic sanction and that is what this definition is proposing.

Examples of economic sanctions placed on Russia recently are Travel Bans restricting certain leaders from entering some countries, the freezing of assets meaning that certain Russian officials can’t invest or touch anything they technically own in certain nations, Russian banks can’t initiate long terms loans in the EU, Russian – EU arms deals are banned, and several other restraints have been placed.

The next phrase that’s crucial to define is “reducing the threat.” This topic gives you a singular way to win the round. Prove that the threat Russia poses is decreased or not. You need to give the judge a way to determine that. Is decreasing the likelihood of an attack reducing a threat? What about decreasing their military funding or the size of their army? Maybe destabilizing their economy is reducing the threat the pose? This needs to be defined so that everyone is on the same page.

And finally we have Western interests. Western society generally refers to European countries or countries with European origin. The thing that isn’t so clear is their interests. There are so many interests at play right now. Some argue that western society’s interests are based on the promotion of the democratic process, or maybe it has to deal with security, or their economic interests. This will tie in with how you perceive “reducing the threat” to form your framework for the round.

Main Affirmative Arguments

The arguments for the Affirmative can be classified into 3 major categories. The first is probability, followed by magnitude, and then the workarounds.


The first argument under this category is the reason economic sanctions exist. They are designed to hurt a country’s economy to the point that they lack the resources to attack or even support any side in time of war. The affirmative could definitely argue that a financially deprived Russia won’t be able to repel democratic movements, compete economically with the west, or even invade a country like they did with Ukraine. If you can prove the link that economic sanctions are hurting the Russian economy you have an endless amount of impacts at your disposal.

You could also argue that these sanctions decrease the amount of assets Russian leaders have throughout Europe. If they have less assets in the area they are also less likely to go in protecting them.

There is also the argument that Russia is publicly being shown the small amount of allies they have. When you don’t have allies you don’t engage in conflict. The entire west has sanctioned them in one way or another. As irrational as Russian actions may have seemed in the past they still analyze the consequences of their actions. If they are going to lose a war there is no reason for them to start it.

Along these lines they know that if they increase their support for corrupt leaders or on the extreme side initiate any violence that they will be punished either economically or militarily by a majority of the world.

One could argue that sanctions have already stopped Russia from making bigger moves in the Middle East, going further into Ukraine, Georgia, or Moldova. I think the affirmative can create a lot of ground for themselves by showing the actions that Russia was planning on making, but then didn’t. That’s your correlation. Once you link it to economic sanctions you should be golden.


Magnitude refers to the destructive power of a nation. The first argument under this category is a decreased amount of weapons and military support. According to CNN this last July, the Russian military is reducing the amount of troops they have by 40,000. The reason for this reduction is due to budget constraints. Prove that economic sanctions caused this and you have a great magnitude argument.

Another argument you can run is that placing these sanctions on Russia it decreases the amount of allies they have. The first way is that they can’t help support their allies in the middle east such as Syria and Egypt. Each country that’s overthrown is another ally lost for Russia. The second way is that economic sanctions create a perception that Russia is the isolated bad guy in this war like fairy tale. You could easily make the argument that Russia’s power and ability to gain allies is non-existent as a result of the sanctions, because a large majority of the world has vowed not to work with them.

Aside from the potential militaristic allies, Russia is also losing out on financial allies, and nations are no longer reliant on Russian commodities. A disconnected economy is a weak economy. And a weak economy brings every sector of your country down.

Along this economic train of thought is that if Russian banks aren’t giving out as many loans and Russia is exporting as much not only is Russia getting weaker, but the economies that are distributing the goods to make up for the Russian shortcomings are getting stronger.

A key characteristic to any great leader or nation is the patriots that support them. The Russian president Vladimir Putin has objected to work with western nations, that’s what caused these economic sanctions to be put in place. One could argue that at some point citizens and patriots will lose patience and abandon the loyalty they once had for Russia. A divided Russia is a weak Russia.

And finally if we look at Russia they are somewhat of a mascot against democratic movements. These sanctions have already reduced the amount of support that Russia can give to repel democracy, but on top of that they are creating themselves as a shining example to the world that the system they promote ultimately fails.

I would also highly recommend researching any and all financial cutbacks that Russia has made. Attributing these cutbacks to economic sanctions would make a great argument.


The first work around is to make the argument that you don’t need to show that the threat that Russia poses is decreasing compared to the past, when the sanctions didn’t exist. We need to compare a world where we didn’t place economic sanctions vs the status quo, where we did initiate sanctions.

If your opponents pull out evidence saying Russia is increasing maybe their nuclear weapons research, funding for extremist organizations, or another part of their military. You can respond by saying yes, that may be true right now, but in a world where economic sanctions didn’t exist they would have funneled even more money into those areas. So instead of $100 million going towards these areas, only $30 million are. Economic sanctions are reducing the amount of money Russia has to fund these programs and are therefore reducing the threat that Russia poses.

I think you can also compare sanctions to the other options the west has when dealing with Russia. Diplomacy failed a long time ago as seen by the Russian aggression in Ukraine and their willingness to support corrupt leaders in the Middle East.

Anything to do with boots on the ground in Russia or an attack of any kind has the high possibility of escalating the conflict. Sanctions are the perfect middle ground. They are actively reducing the threat that Russia would have posed had we done anything else. If we did nothing we have an incredibly strong Russia, if we sent in troops we have an extremely aggressive Russia. Sanctions are the best option we have.

The last affirmative workaround you can use relies on how you define certain words in the resolution. The easiest is to say that if Russia’s economy is decreasing, then so is the threat they pose. After that you can show how they are on the brink of a recession, how their currency has depreciated drastically, how they put different projects like the South Stream Pipeline on hold, how Central Russian banks saw major losses, and so on.

You can also define western interests as a promotion of democracy and show how Russia has stopped getting as involved. There are a lot of definitions that you can use to your advantage. If you write a case that is reliant on your definition make sure that you have some fantastic supportive arguments to keep them alive for the entirety of the round.

Major Negative Arguments

The arguments for the negative can also be classified into the 3 major categories of Probability, Magnitude, and Workarounds.


The first category is probability. The first argument under this category is that economic mutually assured destruction or MAD for short is taken out of the picture. There is a theory that says that a nation that is financially tied up with other nations and has a lot of trade between the two won’t initiate war or attack the other. If Nation A attacks Nation B and it ends up hurting Nation B’s economy then because they are so intertwined it will result in Nation A’s economy failing as well. Because of this Mutually Assured Destruction Nation A should theoretically never attack Nation B.

These sanctions reduce the amount of economic interdependence between the west and Russia. This means they can hurt the EU without hurting themselves as much.

The next argument is that these sanctions will cause Russia to be irrational and desperate. Their economy is going down hill, they are quickly losing allies, these sanctions are pushing them into a corner and at some point Russia will realize that sitting back and letting the West control them is not what they want.

The issue of diplomacy failure also exists. If we need to sign a new nuclear, environmental, or economic treaties the likelihood that Russia will join is decreasing very fast. Economic sanctions are as far as you can go without sending troops over, the west’s sanctions are outright acts of hostility to Russia, there is no reason for them to work with us. Utilizing the link of Russia not wanting to work with the West can be mutating into any impact you want. Give some specific examples of treaties that might come up and you will be on your way.

These sanctions also give Russia a very clear reason to fight against democratic movements. It’s apparent that western democratic states don’t get along with Russia. Therefore Russia should be making every conceivable move possible to repel democracy. This point will definitely require some research, but if you can find some under the table deals that Russia has been doing to help extremist groups it could make a decent argument.

I think researching into the militarist moves that Russia has already taken after the sanctions were in place could give you some great arguments that are happening now. They aren’t futurist or anticipated decisions, they are empirical moves that show Russia’s unwillingness to listen to the West’s sanctions.


The first argument that the negative can make is that the West is treating Russia like they are the little kid on the playground, that the west is bullying them. Russia can easily use the actions that the West is taking to show how hostile and horrible western ideals are. The impacts that the negative can grow from this argument are that this could help unite Russia since they have a common enemy, that this could be propaganda used to repel democratic movements, or without Russia even having to mention it extremist organizations could use these hostile sanctions as reason to recruit.

Russia also doesn’t gain ground for their marxist ideals with violence, they gain by portraying the west and democracy as hostile and invalid. Egypt, Syria, Algeria, Yemen, all of these countries willingly invited Russia in.

The next argument is that it gives Russia a perfectly justifiable reason to start building militarily. Simple enough.

These sanctions could also draw Russia closer to China. Democracy is winning in the middle east, the west is sanctioning nations that disagree politically, there really is not a better time to team up with China and form a non-western pact.

The sanctions that place a restriction on Russia selling weapons to Europe could also lead to some very bad consequences. A CNN article last year found that Russia exports over $13 billion dollars worth of arms. It’s the second biggest supplier of arms in the world right after the United States.

It’s two biggest clients are China and India, but Russia used to export quite a significant amount over to Europe still. Since the sanctions cut that tie off who are those arms going to?

The next argument is that we don’t know what they’re doing. Since we aren’t working with them as much anymore our intelligence on them has decreased. An unknown threat is a big threat.


The first negative work around that you can make is that the affirmative has to prove that the sanctions are actively reducing the threat that Russia poses, not just that they have reduced the threat in the past. Just because sanctions worked a year ago or even a month ago does not mean they are working now.

If you have some hefty research skills and can create a case that relies exclusively on evidence that is less than a month old this could be a great route for you to take.

Another workaround that you can make is that there is an external force that is reducing the threat that Russia poses. Middle Eastern democratic movements that are causing Russia to lose allies arguable could have nothing to do with economic sanctions. So yes Russia is reducing as a threat, but it’s as a result of movements in the middle east, other treaties that could have been formed, oil prices tanking, and so on.

This would force the affirmative into proving that the threat that Russia poses is decreasing and then they have to prove that it’s as a direct result of economic sanctions. Look at some of the policies, agreements, or large global events that took place around last September to start brainstorming for these arguments.

You can also make the framework argument that the Negative doesn’t have the burden of proving that Russia will attack, but simply that it’s even just a little bit more possible. Or that something militarily is just a little bit scarier than it would without the sanctions.

You can also brainstorm with the utilization of alternatives to economic sanctions to prove that they aren’t reducing the threat compared to various other means.

One can also go for the defensive argument that economic sanctions have had such an insignificant impact on the Russian economy that they just haven’t really done much. If you look back to 2007-2008 things were much worse for the Russian and we didn’t do anything.


Just a couple of tips for this topic.

  1. The first tip is to know your recent Russian history. Look up timelines of what happened in Ukraine, know Russia’s part in the middle eastern movements. The more you know, the better you’ll do.
  2. Be specific. It’s not enough to say, “Russia has been decreasing militarily” or “Russia will be intervening into the middle east soon.” Say why they will be doing each action, what specific country will they be going into, what military weapons will they be decreasing. Specificity on this topic will throw your opponents off while painting a beautiful story for the judge.
  3. Be prepared for a definition debate. Every word, every phrase.
  4. Prove causation not correlation. Everything needs to link back specifically to economic sanctions and how they exclusively reduce or enhance the threat that Russia poses.

Please share this video with your friends, subscribe, maybe even tell your coach to show this in class, oh, and good luck at the upcoming tournaments.


Featured image of Putin courtesy of Global Panorama under the Creative Commons license.

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