I think Washington wants to create a situation where financial and economic sanctions against Russia are really hurting the Russian economy, and I think you can see that’s a double-edged sword, because it’s also hurting to the West. Europe has to be very careful, because it is so heavily dependent on Russian energy supplies, and it cannot rely on American supplies, especially when winter comes. I highly doubt that the energy supply lines between Russia and Europe will be severed to any great extent.
I think the sanctions will hurt Russia, but probably not as much as the West would like. Compared to countries like Iraq or even apartheid South Africa, Russia is a much bigger economy and has so many important ties to the global South economically. So these precedents are not necessarily good, because Russia is a much bigger player. And that could have a counterproductive effect, because even the Western press says that this effort to economically isolate Russia is getting a backlash there, in the sense of stoking pro-Putin nationalism. There has of course been courageous anti-war resistance against Putin in Russia, but I think many Russians are caught up in this nationalist frenzy.
I feel like these sanctions are kind of a warning, and the warning is really for China. The message is, “If you ever get into a serious fight with the West, this is what you’re going to face. China knows that, and that’s why it won’t be provoked into any hasty action at this point that would trigger those kinds of sanctions.
Russia is far more vulnerable to economic and financial sanctions than China, because Beijing is so much more sophisticated in terms of all the ties it has developed economically with the Global South. Moreover, the American economy is very dependent on the production capacities built in China by the transnational corporations, which are then exported to the United States. Thus, sanctions would not work to the same degree against China as against Russia.
I think the big winner in this whole situation could be China. He’s relatively well insulated at this point from the fallout from the war in Ukraine, he’s got his own issues trying to prevent the spread of COVID, but it looks like in political, economic and foreign policy terms it’s coming from this much better than the United States. The United States and Europe have exhausted themselves in their efforts to isolate Putin, and I think China is doing much better, not being one of the main participants in this conflict.