United States: Why we should oppose economic sanctions against Russia

March 15, 2022
US dollars burning
Biden’s sanctions are a sign of weakness, not strength.

Socialists and anti-war forces in the United States must oppose the United States-NATO economic sanctions against Russia.

It is not enough to say, “No to the Russian invasion of Ukraine!”; “No to NATO!”

“No to the sanctions!” should not be omitted or played down.

This is especially important, as we can affect what our own government is doing to prolong the war it provoked.

The severe sanctions imposed by the US-led NATO countries have upended 30 years of economic integration of Russia with the West.

US and Western European companies have pulled out of Russia. Non-economic sanctions, such as travel restrictions, have been imposed. Russia has become isolated from Western Europe, and a new Iron Curtain has divided the continent. This situation threatens to become fixed, even if there is a negotiated settlement to the war in Ukraine.

Open doors to refugees

There are more than 2 million Ukrainian refugees from the war concentrated in Poland, Romania and Hungary. Western European countries, Britain and the US should allow these refugees in. That would mean giving up their anti-immigrant policies.

The US has said it will modify its stringent anti-immigrant policies for Ukrainians, but it remains to be seen how many are actually let in, and by what criteria.

The West should do this not only for Ukrainians fleeing the war, but for all the refugees from other wars. This is especially true of the US, with refugees from its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and from its proxy wars and coups in Central America.

The sanctions are primarily hurting the Russian people, not Vladimir Putin’s government or its billionaire backers (the “oligarchs”).

We have seen this in the sanctions the US has imposed against Cuba, Venezuela, Iran and many other countries. It’s the ordinary people who are actually suffering the most.

A clear example is what President Joe Biden’s administration has done to Afghanistan by freezing its foreign reserves and economic support. This has caused economic collapse and hunger for millions of ordinary Afghans. The leaders of the Taliban do not go hungry or suffer.

Inflicting hardship through sanctions on the Russian people risks undercutting the anti-war movement there, as many Russians will see the US as responsible for their suffering.

The sanctions do not help the Ukrainian people’s struggle against the invasion.

Workers suffer from oil inflation

In the US, there are also repercussions, as the price of oil has gone up, resulting in big hikes in petrol prices, which affects workers the most. Those who are better off can shrug them off and the rich simply don’t care.

The rise in oil prices affects the whole economy, including transportation, plastics, fertilisers and much more, worsening inflation and economic disruption.

While the stock market has been volatile, stocks of big oil and military-related companies are up as a result of the sanctions and renewed military deployments to Western Europe.

Already, the Republicans are stepping up their “anti-inflation” campaign aimed at rolling back and blocking spending on social programs. For their Donald Trump-supporting base, inflation — on top of the effects of COVID-19 on the economy — can be blamed on Biden.

Biden stopped all US imports of Russian gas and oil. But much of the rest of the world is not following suit.

While the US has been successful in uniting the European Union and NATO behind almost all its sanctions, Biden has been forced to support one loophole: European countries will continue to import Russian oil and gas because their economies rely on these energy resources. Without them, European economies would face massive economic disruption and depression, which would have worldwide impact.

Inflation has also hit Western Europe, with the European Central Bank warning of economic disruption.

Many countries reject sanctions

Many countries know that US and NATO sanctions could be imposed on them if they disagree with US foreign policy. It’s therefore not surprising that countries such as Mexico, China, India and much of Africa are not signing on to the economic warfare led by the US against Russia.

The only solid bloc behind the sanctions is Western Europe.

While the sanctions have had a devastating effect on Russia’s economy, we should note that Russia, China and India are stronger today than three decades ago.

Russia has large gold reserves (valued at US$130 billion). It also has a much stronger agricultural sector now and is the world’s largest exporter of wheat. It also has stronger economic ties to China.

Washington’s threats of using its financial control — reflected in the dollar’s role as the world’s reserve currency and its control over the world’s banking system — to force countries to obey its sanctions, are losing their efficacy. Biden’s sanctions are a sign of weakness, not strength.

Another example of the decline in US financial power is the failure of Biden’s attempts to ameliorate inflation at home by getting Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to raise their oil production to drive down — or at least slow the rise of — its price.

They refused — enjoying the high price of their oil. These countries have their own friendly relations and economic ties to Russia that they don’t want to jeopardise.

Undermining US Empire

Economist Michael Hudson’s critical analysis in the March 8 edition of Counterpunch argues that the war in Ukraine is undermining the US Empire.

Written before Western Europe was exempted from imposing sanctions against Russian oil and gas, he asks: “How will the US and European economies cope in the face of their sanctions against imports of Russian gas and oil, cobalt, aluminum, palladium and other basic materials…[?]

“American diplomats have made a list of raw materials that their economy desperately needs, and which are therefore exempt from the trade sanctions being imposed. This provides Mr Putin a handy list of US pressure points to use in reshaping world diplomacy and helping European and other countries break away from the Iron Curtain that America has imposed to lock its satellites into dependence on high-priced US supplies.

“But the final breakaway from NATO’s adventurism must come from within the US itself. As this year’s midterm [November] elections approach, politicians will find a fertile ground in showing US voters that the price inflation led by gasoline and energy is a policy byproduct of the Biden administration’s blocking of Russian and gas exports. (Bad news for owners of big SUV gas guzzlers!)

“Gas is needed not only for heating and energy production, but to make fertilizer, of which there already is a world shortage. This situation is exacerbated by blocking Russian and Ukrainian grain exports to the US and Europe, causing food prices already to soar.

“Trying to force Russia to respond militarily and thereby look bad to the rest of the world is turning out to be a stunt simply at ensuring Europe contribute more to NATO, buy more US military hardware, and lock itself deeper into trade and monetary dependence on the US.

“The instability this has caused is turning out to have the effect of making the United States look as threatening as … Russia...”

None of this in any way justifies Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which must be roundly condemned.

While the Western media is fixated on the war in Ukraine, it ignores the continuing US bombing of parts of Africa, its continuing support of Saudi Arabia’s genocidal war in Yemen, and provocative military actions against Venezuela and China.

The US and Colombian militaries held joint exercises with a nuclear submarine in the Caribbean Sea near Venezuela, just one day after Washington sent a warship through the Taiwan Strait.

Anti-war forces in the US, Europe, Russia and other countries can be a political force.

A settlement of the war is possible, without complete defeat for either side. It may mean the partition of Ukraine with part of its east, including Crimea, being controlled by Russia and the the rest by the Ukrainian government, with Ukraine agreeing to a constitutional change never to join NATO.

What we can do now is to explain that the Russian invasion must be ended, that NATO is a reactionary military bloc subservient to US imperialism and should be dismantled, that the US-led sanctions against Russia must be ended, and that the US and Western European countries should let Ukrainian refugees in.

That is the best way to show our solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

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