Sanctions against Russia compete against war fatigue in Europe

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Welcome back. This weekend I look at war fatigue in Europe and the US and the impact of Western sanctions on Russia.

But first, thanks for voting in last week’s poll. Some 58 percent of readers said yes, the European Central Bank will use its new bond-buying tool to help Italy, and 22 percent of you said no. About a fifth thought – well, maybe. You can contact me tony.barber@ft.com.


Inflation, the energy crisis and the prospect of an economic recession are being tested the resolution of the European governments to maintain its support for Ukraine. Critics of the war, many with a long history of pro-Russian sympathies, are capitalizing on the public’s concerns.

Among those who spoke this week were Jeremy Corbynformer leader of the United Kingdom Labor Party; Gerhard Schroeder, former German chancellor; and Marine Le Penthe leader of the far right in France.

To this list we can add other opponents of the West’s position, such as Viktor OrbanPrime Minister of Hungary; Giuseppe Conte, a former Italian prime minister who helped bring down Mario Draghi’s government; and Alice Schwarzerthe doyen of German feminism.

With the exception of Orbán, none of these figures hold power. More significant, in my opinion, were the remarks in June of Jens Plötner, foreign policy adviser to Olaf Scholz, the Social Democratic Chancellor of Germany. He said the media should focus more on the West’s future relationship with Russia than on arms supplies to Ukraine.

Sentiment in Germany, the EU’s largest economy that relies heavily on Russian gas, will be particularly important as the European winter approaches. in this excellent analysis for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Sergey Vakulenko outlines the problem:

In Russia’s strategic calculus, Europe’s dependence on Russian gas means that European governments must either face a severe economic and political crisis at home this winter, or call a truce in their confrontation with Moscow by complying with some of the political demands of the Kremlin to Ukraine and lifted the sanctions.

We also have to consider politics and public opinion in the US, without whose military aid Ukraine would be in deep trouble. United States economy weakens. Tensions with China rise up. The mid-term elections are only three months away, and the Republicans, a lot of them Donald Trump’s supportput President Joe Biden’s Democrats under pressure.

For Ukraine, which says needs many more billions of dollars in Western financial and military aid, these are worrying trends.

Another concern in Kyiv must be the risk that Western public interest in Ukraine’s cause will fade. Data from the Newswhip media monitoring service, as shown in this Grid News chart, show that global media coverage of the war in Ukraine dropped sharply between February, when Russia invaded, and the end of May. Published news articles about Ukraine have fallen from their post-invasion peak of nearly 77,000 a day in March to 10,000 in June.

Still, Western governments continue to maintain firm support for Ukraine. One of the reasons is that they are confident that their economic sanctions are impacting Russia’s military efforts.

Critics argue that sanctions are hurting Europe more than Russia. However, the Kremlin has gone to great lengths since the invasion hide the official Russian statistics this would give a relatively accurate picture of trends in the economy and public finances.

Of course he said most complete and most up-to-date assessment of Russian economic trends appeared last month in a study by Jeffrey Sonnenfeld and four other scholars at Yale University. They concluded the following:

  • The retreat of business (by Western companies) and sanctions are catastrophically crippling the Russian economy

  • Russia’s strategic positioning as an exporter of raw materials has irretrievably deteriorated

  • Despite some ongoing leaks, Russian imports have largely collapsed

  • Russian domestic production is completely stopped

  • The Kremlin’s finances are in much, much worse shape than is commonly understood

A similar analysis appears in this helpful blog post by Josep Borrell, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs.

You might say, well, he would say that, right? In fact, Borel’s estimate is broadly in line with that of a number of respected independent academic institutions in Western countries.

To sum up, this could be a tough winter in Europe with unpredictable political consequences. But the Russian economy is under more pressure than most critics of Western sanctions allow.

Notable, quotable

We have to follow the official line on how to express our patriotism – a Beijing-based media executive who asked not to be named

A media official explained to the FT how the Communist authorities in China led the public response about US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s controversial visit to Taiwan

Tony’s Pick of the Week

  • The US drone strike that killed Al Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri has dealt a blow to the Taliban’s push for legitimacy in Afghanistan, say the FT’s Benjamin Parkin in New Delhi and Andrew England in London

  • The EU’s confused asylum policy has turned the Greek island of Lesbos (also known in English as Lesvos) into “refugee prison in paradise”writes Anna Iasmi Vallianatou in a commentary for London-based think tank Chatham House

  • In collaboration between the FT’s audience engagement team and the foreign bureaus, my colleagues spoke to six Ukrainian refugees around the worldwho shared their stories of hardship, heartache and uncertainty, but also of good deeds from people who offered them a safe place to call home

Britain after Brexit — Keep up with the latest developments as the UK economy adjusts to life outside the EU. register TIMES

Working it — Discover the big ideas shaping today’s workplaces with a weekly newsletter from jobs and careers editor Isabelle Berwick. register TIMES

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