Many eyes were on Geneva Friday at the talks between U.S. Secretary of State Andrew Blinken and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov as the two nations continue to spar over what U.S. President Joe Biden said could be an imminent invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces amassed along the border.

Back in Canada however, the Russian ambassador had a strong reply to the Western response levelled at his home country, as Canada announced it had sanctioned more than 400 people and entities going back to the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.

“Sanctions never work and sanctions never will be able to work against such countries, such [a] nation as Russia. The attempts to use sanctions as a threat in order to make Russia do certain steps on the international area is just an illusion,” Ambassador Oleg Stepanov said Thursday on CTV’s Power Play. “Actually, in Russia, and the Russian government, and I can tell you frankly, nobody cares about Western sanctions anymore.”

However confident the Russian ambassador appeared, assistant professor in international relations at the University of Waterloo Alexander Lanoszka said Russia does care about western sanctions.

“Well they do care about sanctions because they’ve built up a massive strategic reserve of currency designed to weather a new series of sanctions that western nations could mete out to Russia if it does go about an escalation against Ukraine,” Lanoszka said on CTV’s Your Morning Friday.

However, at this stage in the crisis with 100,000 Russian troops on the border, Lanoszka warned against overconfidence in what sanctions could achieve.

“Of course we should not expect too much from sanctions, sanctions in this case do raise the cost of aggression but they also assert red lines [and] they reinforce norms about territorial integrity,” he said.

While the membership of Ukraine in the NATO alliance is what Russia objects to, Lanoszka says there is much more at play.

“There is a lot more behind it, so yes NATO membership in respect to Ukraine is certainly on the table for Russia and perhaps a core aim of theirs, but really they have emphasized other things including a rollback of all NATO measures put in place virtually since 1997 in eastern and central Europe,” Lanoszka explained. “Basically depriving any country who joined the alliance of any political or military support that they have received, so those are very expansive aims and really non-starters for the organization.”

When asked if sanctions could prevent any further military action on Russia’s part, Lanoszka was non-committal.

“Perhaps not, I would say that sanctions are not very effective at this stage of the crisis because Russia has discounted the cost associated with sanctions, they’ve gone this far into the crisis, they’ve built up military forces, they know that certain actions on their part will trigger a response,” he said. “And they’ve discounted those costs already – that’s not to say we shouldn’t be imposing sanctions… but it goes to show that we are very deep into this crisis.”

Lanoszka theorized that any further incursion or invasion of Ukraine by Russia may not materialize as feared, with a large scale force moving in.

“We really don’t know [what it will look like], but it’s important to emphasize that invasion may not mean permanent occupation,” he said. “It could be the case that Russia launches limited strikes against Ukraine’s military assets, it could hold some territory to force Kyiv to capitulate or submit to certain demands made by Moscow… the range of possibilities is fairly large, I think though the most likely military option Russia would use if it decides to use force would be something in the order of limited military strikes.”


With a file from’s Ottawa bureau Producer Sarah Turnbull