How many more Mariupols before we decide that saving lives is more important than conserving energy supplies? How many more buchas before our trust in the creature’s comfort counts less than the Ukrainian people’s right to peace?
We hear a landslide of rhetoric about the use of sanctions as a deterrent Wladimir Putin‘s war machine. But baby step measures are used and they don’t work – Russia chaos continues to rain down Ukraine. Russia is run by an autocrat who has no regard for public opinion inside or outside his country and who ruthlessly suppresses internal opposition. The only hope is to isolate him internationally.
It’s time to escalate the sanctions into a total economic blockade. The EU needs to go into overdrive and “make the economy scream,” in Richard Nixon’s chilling words about Chile.
First and foremost, Europe must stop energy imports from Russia. Russia relies heavily on its energy export revenues, which account for half of its total foreign trade. Essentially, it uses European funds to continue its war against Ukraine.
An economic blockade would inflict instant pain on Russia and collapse living standards. The EU countries would also feel the effects of the crisis: Slovakia, Austria, Hungary and Germany are most dependent on Russian gas in the bloc. Overall, Europe gets a third of its natural gas from Russia, energy that is used not only to heat homes but also to generate electricity.
But summer is coming. That buys some time – next winter is another matter. However, we urgently need to reduce fossil fuel consumption while investing more in renewable energy sources. It won’t be easy, but it has to happen.
So far, the penalties imposed on fossil superpower Russia have been relatively timid. As an arsenal, sanctions have so far lacked fangs. This is partly because the EU and Russia are economically interdependent and member countries are unwilling to suffer their own citizens and businesses.
This war is already causing difficulties as energy prices escalate and the cost of living rises, and this slow approach to sanctions is prolonging those difficulties. A blockade is not a panacea – there will be repercussions both on this side and on the Russian side. Job losses and other hardships are inevitable here. But any hardship we see in Europe, in Ireland, is nothing compared to the misery that afflicts the Ukrainians. They face death, colonization and forced emigration.
The energy sector is crucial. European money continues to flow to Russia to buy energy, which in turn allows Russia to fund its “special military operation” in Ukraine. Without EU money for oil and gas, its public finances would cause a series of catastrophic leaks. In any case, the Russian economy is expected to shrink by a third this year.
And so on President Volodymyr Zelensky’s speech to the Houses of the Oireachtas this week – an impassioned plea for Ireland to support tougher sanctions on Russia and end trade deals there; a plea he makes before other parliaments while he still has a homeland to fight for.
In Ireland we’re hardwired to the idea of teaming up with a David figure against a Goliath, but ‘stand for Ukraine’ needs to mean something concrete, as opposed to empty rhetoric. President Zelensky’s call, in turn, triggered a flurry of talks at Leinster House, which was not entirely empty, although there was a certain amount of hot air. There are no quick fixes, but there are quicker ones than this protracted series of sanctions followed by another series.
Ireland is only one voice in Europe, but our leaders must use it to push for a total economic blockade of Russia. As the horrific images from Ukraine show only too clearly, time is of the essence. Russia is elbow-deep in a shock-and-awe war, even as it pushes its alternate reality propaganda to engage in a “peacekeeping” role.
“This war cannot be won. Sooner or later it will have to move from the battlefields to the peace talks,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. The “later” in this sentence is annoying. Later means more deaths – not just Ukrainian, but Russian.
In a resolution adopted by an overwhelming majority yesterday in the European Parliament, MEPs called for additional penalties against “aggressor state” Russia, including an “immediate total embargo” on imports of oil, coal, nuclear fuel and gas from Russia. Touching words. But power is in the hands of the European Commission and the Council of Ministers.
Those with influence in Brussels continue to exercise it cautiously. EU President Ursula von der Leyen says more EU sanctions are on the way, with consideration being given to the latest round of penalties relating to goods worth €9.5 billion a year. Included are coal imports of €4 billion per year, caviar and vodka. Unfortunately, a complete embargo does not seem to be in sight.
In his distant plea for support for Dublin on Wednesday, President Zelenskyy expressed his dismay that deals were still being done between Europe and Russia, that links existed through the global banking system and that politicians and business leaders were not yet convinced that more was being done should be. “I can’t tolerate indecisiveness,” he said. But the European leadership is still hesitating.
Not so the MPs. In their wish list, they called for the exclusion of Russia from the Swift banking system, a ban on all Russia-connected ships entering EU territorial waters or docking in EU ports, and a ban on road freight transport to and from Russia and Belarus. All Russian flights from EU, UK, US and Canadian airspace have already been banned. But MEPs have limited powers – just as Ireland has limited powers to direct Europe’s course of action.
Elsewhere, Britain has imposed sanctions on Russia’s biggest bank, Sberbank, and pledged to halt all imports of Russian coal and oil by the end of 2022. US sanctions include economic measures to ban new investments in Russia and sanctions on two Russian financial institutions and on named individuals, including Putin’s adult children.
What is the use of organizations like the EU if they behave like technical talks instead of acting when it is crucial to act – and act decisively?
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/our-leaders-must-use-their-voice-to-press-for-a-total-economic-blockade-of-russia-41531791.html Our leaders must raise their voices to urge a total economic blockade of Russia