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Is the west under-estimating Russian resilience to sanctions? 

There is a three pronged war being raged between the West – chiefly the NATO countries – and Russia right now. The information war is being conducted through the media institutions and tech platforms; then there’s a financial war of sanctions and resources and currency attacks; and, of course, there is the military confrontation in Ukraine.

The West are winning the media war hands down. The control of narrative is something that the West specialises in that was ramped up very rapidly. Sputnik and RT were banned in Europe with surprising alacrity, and the footage and stories coming from the Ukraine are curated entirely from one side, in a style that mythologises the Ukrainian resistance. Some of it is morale building, and the other part of it is to build public support for whatever measures NATO decide to take.

The military war is obscured by the level of narrative control coming from Ukraine. The stories of heroic resistance fighting does not seem to reflect reality. From this commentator’s point of view, encouraging civilians to throw Molotov cocktails at tanks and thereby become a military target is beyond reprehensible.

What we can tell from the fog of war is that the Russians have moved rapidly, and it seems that one of  their objectives is to surround the Ukrainian units in the East of Ukraine who were stationed there in a military conflict with Donbas and Luhansk separatists. Though the information coming back is poor it appears that that objective is being progressed. At the same time Russian convoys are heading for the major cities and are digging in around them. From a strategic point of view it would seem that the purpose of this is to pin down and prevent the logistical centres from supplying the Ukrainian army being encircled in the East. If they do this and cause a surrender of the Ukrainian forces in the East, it would put them in a strong negotiating position. Perhaps the threat of this development explains why there have been talks between Ukrainian and Russian envoys in Bellarus.

The war against the Russian currency and the Russian economy did not go fully as planned. The effort to collapse the Ruble did not crush it and it may bounce back after a 30% drop. Russia is a high export economy and for most goods – barring luxury goods – it is self sufficient. It turns out that Russia will continue to export these essentials even if it is barred from SWIFT. Interestingly, the financial sanction was advised against <https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-02-25/wall-street-counsels-washington-against-kicking-russia-off-swift>  by the main banks in Wall Street and Europe.

In fact, the war might have forced a new alignment in global money transfers and a new bipolar model of world trade. In particular, it pushes China’s CIPS (Cross Border Interpayment System) to a more prominent position in relation to SWIFT. It may also align Russia more with a Eurasian economic block, so that they turn off the flow of gas and oil to Europe and send it to China and India. That’s an option, and make no mistake about it, despite enormous investment in renewables, Europe relies heavily on Russian oil and gas.

The fact is that Russia accounts for a high proportion of energy and mineral resources in the world. Blocking these exports may cause more harm outside Russia than inside Russia. Some of these are key materials which world industry cannot do without, such as cobalt, palladium, nickel, and aluminium.

Russia’s chief exports are:

  • 1.    Mineral fuels including oil: US$141.3 billion (42.1% of total exports)
  • 2.    Gems, precious metals: $30.4 billion (9%)
  • 3.    Iron, steel: $16 billion (4.8%)
  • 4.    Cereals: $9.5 billion (2.8%)
  • 5.    Machinery including computers: $8.3 billion (2.5%)
  • 6.    Wood: $8.2 billion (2.5%)
  • 7.    Fertilizers: $7 billion (2.1%)
  • 8.    Copper: $5.6 billion (1.7%)
  • 9.    Aluminum: $5.5 billion (1.6%)
  • 10. Fish: $4.6 billion (1.4%)

 

Russia and Ukraine account for 25% of the world’s grain exports and a disruption to this could have devastating effects on the food security of the global south – as seen by the Irish government’s new direction to farmers to plant grain. It is interesting that the developing world do not have the same perspective of the conflcit as the NATO countries do. India, Mexico, the middle eastern countries are bullishly against sanctions. Brazil are not lending support to sanctions either and it is difficult to imagine the global south supporting sanctions that could threaten food supplies and therefore bring starvation.

Russia’s top imports are: Cars ($11B), Packaged Medications ($10.2B), Vehicle Parts ($8.21B), Broadcasting Equipment ($6.75B), and Planes, Helicopters, and/or Spacecraft ($4.81B).

Their main trading partners are: China ($47.1B), Germany ($30B), Belarus ($13.4B), United States ($9.21B), and Italy ($8.79B).

Cooler heads would look at these facts and might surmise that this is a war where Russia might have the advantage. The problem with winning the media war while not winning the economic and military war, is that the hyper emotionalism of the communications war promotes an escalation of hysterical response that can’t be backed up with hard power. The talk of no-fly zones over Ukraine is driven by a hyperemotional public response. It would be a definitive step in the escalation to outright war between NATO and Russia, because once a Russian plane is shot down by a NATO troop, we will be in a full-scale war.

Which brings us back to the media war. The pro-war narrative, while being completely effective through the media in Europe, has not the same support in America where there is a level of cynicism and push back, particularly in the alternative media.

J.D. Vance, who served time in Afghanistan, is just one of the military vets who have asked why should America’s children be sent on another war in some far flung region across the globe, to enrich America’s war lobby? They have asked why should their children be sent over to Easter Europe to die fighting Russians alongside the Neo-Nazi Azov Brigade? Cooler heads might look for a different solution.

We have yet to see evidence that there is even one coolheaded diplomat in most of the Western world.

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