After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the US, the EU and their geopolitical allies responded almost immediately by rolling out new “targeted” sanctions against the Russian financial system and, later, the fuel industry.
The sanctions are far reaching, from cutting Russia out of the SWIFT messaging system, a global information network allowing banks from different countries to facilitate financial transactions; to freezing the assets of Russian capitalists (lazily otherized by Western media be referring to them as “oligarchs,” as if the United States doesn’t have its fair share of billionaires with a guiding role in policymaking); to banning the import of Russian oil — the most devastating sanction that has been imposed yet, as Russia is the second-largest exporter of crude oil, bested only by Saudi Arabia.
On Wednesday, March 10, President Joe Biden said of skyrocketing gas prices seen across the world, “Defending freedom is going to cost.” “We will not be part of subsidizing Putin’s war,” he added to qualify Washington’s decision.
Washington’s self-righteous attitude may misdirect American sentiments to believe that this country’s foreign policy is indeed protecting the freedom of the Ukrainian people; but if you’re familiar with America’s past and present, the claim that the U.S. is a crusader for liberty is clearly nothing more than blatantly manipulative, imperialist rhetoric to justify needless cruelty against the people of Russia, as well as the one-third of the global population whose freedoms are restricted by economic sanctions.
In a recently published article by The Atlantic Magazine entitled “The Russian Elite Can’t Stand the Sanctions,” sociologist Brooke Harrington outlines how sanctions targeting the Russian bourgeoisie are limiting their access to luxury goods and services such as private jet flights around the world, access to international designer shops, and vacations to their summer homes in temperate countries.
Clearly this approach has had some impact, as two of Russia’s richest capitalists — Mikhail Fridman and Oleg Deripaska — have already called for an end to the war due to the major hits to their assets; however, smugly triumphing over the minor losses to the massive fortunes of Russian capitalists flattens, if not flat out erases, the suffering of Russian citizens whose suffering under austere Russian capitalism has been exacerbated by these sanctions, as well as the callous violence initiated by the right-wing Russian President, Vladimir Putin.
Russian billionaires have more than enough capital to keep their enterprises alive through the exploitation of Russian workers. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the transition to neoliberal capitalism from late-Soviet socialism (albeit a bastardized form) caused an economic crisis the likes of which had never been seen in Eastern Europe. Productivity was nearly cut in half, leading to an increase in mortality rates and decrease in life expectancy across the former USSR. Now, about two weeks into the Russian state’s invasion of Ukraine, the rapid increase in the price of goods, eviscerated social safety net and rapidly draining savings of working class Russians are already drawing comparisons to the post-Soviet economic crisis.
The reasons for this stem genealogically from the imperialistic tactics of the United States and European Union. In order to survive the harsh U.S. sanctions regime — which limits access to the world’s reserve currency, the U.S. dollar — Russia adopted a “fortress economy” that stocked up on its own currency, as well as currency from its own geopolitical allies, to make its capitalist economy resistant to economic aggression from its adversaries. It does this by slashing social spending and allowing the mass privatization of services so that the state can create a strong reserve.
Make no mistake — Russia’s motivation for “Fortress Russia” is not for the benefit of the masses, but for the security of the capitalist class, which is dependent on a stable economy to maintain their exploitation of the working class, who’ve been arrested in the thousands for protesting this war. Still, it is economic and military aggression from the U.S. and NATO which bears the brunt of blame for conflict in Europe. If not for the creep of Western arms and sanctions into Eastern Europe, then the region would absolutely not be the pressure cooker of conflict that it is at this very moment.
The White House is putting its hypocrisy on display as it endorses the destruction of the Russian economy and bleeding of Russian workers. In the same fashion, its “humanitarian sanctions” on Venezuela starve the nation’s most vulnerable by denying them access to food imports and critical medical devices — a blockade which may have led to approximately 40,000 excess deaths in 2019. U.S. sanctions and blockades remained as the coronavirus tore through the global population, causing a double jeopardy of suffering from COVID and imperialism for countries like Iran and Cuba. When the United States maintains amicable relationships with Saudi Arabia and Israel in spite of their genocidal campaigns of violence against Yemenis and Palestinians but chooses not to subsidize Russia’s war on Ukraine, Washington is saying that it does not care about the blood on its hands if the innocents from whom it comes aren’t European.
It is dishonest and incorrect to frame easing up on sanctions as a matter of “rewarding Putin”; in reality, it is a step towards peace and diplomacy between powers that have long been at odds, preventing a second Cold War. More importantly, it represents a boot off the neck of the global working class, for whom Western politicians and pundits couldn’t care less. Considering US sanctions have never succeeded in regime change, the point of denying crucial resources to Cuba, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Venezuela, Syria, Afghanistan, Russia and more is to enact cruelty on the masses. In order for peace to win, the US sanctions regime must fall.