April 12, 2022

Sanctions on Russia

“Russia’s central bank has managed to stabilize key aspects of the economy with severe controls, artificially propping up the ruble to allow it to rebound to levels seen before the invasion of Ukraine even as the West piles on more sanctions. That became evident as [the] central bank of Russia said [last] Friday that it was lowering its benchmark interest rate and said more rate cuts could be on the way.” AP News

Many on both sides criticize Europe’s continued purchases of Russian energy and call for the seizure of Russian assets:

“Vladimir Putin’s Russia is earning more from its energy exports than it was before it invaded Ukraine, and the ruble has bounced back to its prewar value. Tell us again about those ‘crippling’ sanctions. Yes, President Joe Biden on Friday signed two bills expanding US financial restrictions on Russia, and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan says, ‘We will keep working on additional ways to deny them revenue.’…

“But none of it can hit that hard as long as Western Europe, utterly dependent on Russia’s oil and gas, can’t stop buying it. And the war has roiled markets enough to spike prices, so Bloomberg Economics anticipates Russia will earn about $320 billion from energy exports this year, up more than a third from 2021.”
Editorial Board, New York Post

“Germany has been warned for decades about the risks of becoming dependent on Russian gas. But its leaders, focused on the short-run benefits of cheap energy, ignored those warnings. On the eve of the Ukraine war, 55 percent of German gas came from Russia. There’s no question that quickly cutting off, or even greatly reducing, this gas flow would be painful. But multiple economic analyses — from the Brussels-based Bruegel Institute, the International Energy Agency and ECONtribute, a think tank sponsored by the Universities of Bonn and Cologne — have found that the effects of drastically reducing gas imports from Russia would be far from catastrophic to Germany…

“The ECONtribute analysis offers a range of estimates, but their worst-case number is that an embargo on Russian gas would temporarily reduce Germany’s real G.D.P. by 2.1 percent… Now, German industrialists refuse to accept economists’ estimates, insisting that a gas embargo would indeed be catastrophic. But they would say that, wouldn’t they? Industrial leaders everywhere always claim that any proposed restriction on their activities would be an economic disaster… [Germany] has in effect become Putin’s prime enabler.”
Paul Krugman, New York Times

“The problem is, the Germans are still unwilling to make limited sacrifices in the face of this crisis. For instance, they cannot even agree to set a speed limit on the autobahn. That would lower gasoline and diesel consumption, and put less money directly into Putin’s pocket. Even a government with a Green Party minister in charge of the economy and energy (Robert Habeck) cannot get this done. The result is inexcusable delay, and a great moral and political failure by one of the most powerful economies of the world… Given the unwillingness of Western governments to act with greater force against Putin, private lawsuits seeking compensation could be a productive path

“When Putin’s cronies adhered close enough to the rules and norms of the global economy, the legal system in various countries protected their property rights. But war crimes and just demands for compensation change everything. Now all foreign assets earned through supporting Putin’s regime are potentially open to being seized and shared among Ukrainians who have suffered enormous losses… The European businesses may wish to ignore what’s happening in Ukraine and the judgment of history for their failure to respond. But their calculations may well change once courts order their assets, including tanker ships and cargo, to be impounded.”
Simon Johnson, Los Angeles Times

“Russia’s massive hard-currency reserves now frozen in Western accounts are a crucial asset that can be used to protect Ukraine and its sovereignty. These frozen assets should be confiscated and given to Ukraine to finance its defense, sustain its economy, provide government services, and care for internally displaced and homeless Ukrainians. When peace comes, the remaining assets could be used to rebuild Ukraine’s housing and infrastructure. The U.S. and its allies also should confiscate the assets of Russia’s oligarchs and give them to Ukraine…

“Arming Ukraine and eventually assisting its rebuilding with Russian reserves also would remove financial pressure from America’s Western allies. The cost of supporting wartime Ukraine, its refugees and its eventual recovery will be high. And though there is strong public support for assisting Ukraine, over time Western governments might be reluctant to foot the bill for Ukraine’s vast needs as it rebuilds… Most important, a quick decision to bolster Ukraine with seized Russian assets would strengthen Ukraine’s war effort and economy and boost Ukrainian morale. It is the next logical step in the effort to pressure Vladimir Putin into a settlement that ensures Ukraine’s sovereignty.”
Adrian Karatnycky, Wall Street Journal

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