Why The Economic War Against Russia Has Failed

The economic war against Russia has partially failed due to Europe having itself paid a high price to effect a partial boycott of Russian oil and gas.

There was much mirth in the West this week when Vladimir Putin’s Victory Day parade through Red Square included just one tank, itself a relic from a museum. The inference was that Russia has lost so much military kit in Ukraine that it is a shadow of the military superpower the Soviet Union used to be.

Russia has certainly borne heavy losses (although any country conducting a foreign war would presumably have its military hardware on active duty rather than on ceremonial parade). But we should avoid being smug. The truth is that the war is not going well for the West either – at least in one respect.

When Putin sent tanks into Ukraine on 24 February last year, western countries rapidly adopted a two-pronged strategy. One prong was that they would not engage in direct military conflict, but would support Ukraine with weapons and other military equipment. Some countries were quicker than others, but this part of the strategy has been a remarkable success. Ukraine has managed to resist Russian forces, and to push them back from many areas, even if the outcome is still far from certain.

The West embarked on its sanctions war with an exaggerated sense of its own influence around the world 

The other prong, though, has turned out to be blunt: the plan to wage economic war with Moscow, unleashing financial shock and awe on a scale never seen before. Russia was to be cut off almost entirely, with sanctions and boycotts on all imports and exports save for humanitarian ones such as medicines. Putin’s Russia, went the theory, would be impoverished into surrender.

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Few people in the West are aware of how badly this aspect of the war is going. Europe has itself paid a high price to effect a partial boycott of Russian oil and gas. UK fossil fuel imports from Russia totalled £4.5 billion in 2021; in the year to January 2023 that was – officially – down to £1.3 billion. In 2020 the EU sourced 39 per cent of its gas and 23 per cent of its oil from Russia; in the third quarter of last year this was down to 15 per cent and 14 per cent respectively.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned in a quote to CNN that the US dollar may lose its dominance if nations are sanctioned.

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