"The sanctions news has had little additional impact," said Christopher J. Weafer, a founding partner in Macro Advisory and a longtime financial analyst in Moscow. "But most investors are staying away from Russia for now. They are waiting until there is a clearer picture of the trend in the economy and the effect on earnings over this year and longer."
At a meeting in Moscow this week that included American Embassy officials and business representatives, there was little clarity about what was allowed under the current sanctions, and some executives concluded that they would err on the side of caution, an attitude that could effectively enhance the impact of sanctions. One participant said American officials recommended that chief executives not attend an economic forum in St. Petersburg this month that is important to President Putin.
Russia's economy was already slowing last fall. The Moscow government shifted from a stimulus spending strategy to a money supply strategy to try to reduce borrowing rates as a way to increase business activity.
The ruble started to depreciate sharply in January, long before Russia intervened in Ukraine, but the annexation of Crimea accelerated the drop as well as capital flight. Russia's central bank intervened by raising key rates to control the slide in the ruble. By the time President Obama imposed his first sanctions on March 17, the fall of the ruble and markets had stabilized. The ruble, trading at 36.57 to the dollar before the sanctions, improved to 35.64 to the dollar on Thursday. The Micex stock market index closed at 1,237.43 the Friday before the first sanctions and was up to 1,306.01 on Thursday.
Read MoreMore sanctions: Has Russia overplayed her hand?
Goldman Sachs estimated capital flight out of Russia at $50 billion before President Obama's sanctions.
Obama administration officials said the expectation of sanctions had already been factored into the market by that point, and they noted that even President Putin had said the sanctions were causing damage, although he said the impact was "of no critical character."
Timothy M. Frye, director of the Harriman Institute at Columbia University, said the Russian economy was declining even without sanctions. "But it's wrong to say that sanctions are not having any impact in Russia and that the Russian government can easily ignore them," he said.
Still, Frye said President Putin can now shift blame. "The sanctions do give the Russian government an excuse, a scapegoat for the poor economic performance," he said. Russian officials are already saying its tough economic times "are due to the West's nefarious activities, when in reality the underlying problems are Russia's bad governance."
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