2022 – The EU must forget about sanctions – they do more harm than good Simon Jenkins

s9 million households in the UK are facing blackouts in the morning and evening this winter to maintain sanctions against Russia, as well as consumers across Europe. This is despite Europe pumping about $1 billion a day into Russia to pay for the gas and oil it continues to consume. This sounds crazy. EU proposals to stop payments are understandably opposed by countries close to Russia and heavily dependent on fossil fuels; Germany buys 12% of its oil and 35% of its gas from Russia, much higher numbers than Hungary.

The European Union in Brussels does not seem to know what to do. A diplomatic settlement has been lifted — sanctions on imports through the pipeline, which would spare Hungary and Germany — but no workable plan has been agreed upon. The real reason is that the dispute over the sanctions weapon has turned into a manly rhetoric. It is designed to persuade a foreign regime to change an unacceptable policy. This rarely, if ever, happens, and in the case of Russia it has failed blatantly. Advocates now claim that sanctions are merely a deterrent effect intended to work in the medium to long term. As the course of the war in Ukraine changes, that period could indeed be long.

Sanctions may have hurt Russia’s creditworthiness, but a 70% rise in global gas prices alone has boosted its balance of payments. Its current account surplus is now more than three times what it was before the invasion, according to the central bank. At the same time, the sanctions are clearly detrimental to the countries that impose them in Western and Central Europe.

It is absurd to expect Hungary to starve energy and, as they say, “nuclear bomb” its economy with no fixed target or timetable in sight. Punishments have a terrible habit of being difficult to break. It gets worse. Russia’s response to the sanctions was to threaten to cut off the flow of gas to Europe, which pushed prices even higher in its favour. It is already closing the Black Sea ports from which millions of tons of Ukrainian grain are normally shipped to the outside world. This blockade has caused cereal prices to rise 48% compared to 2019, destroying markets, particularly across Africa. This, in turn, increased the value of Russia’s massive grain exports. Russia has offered to lift the blockade if sanctions are lifted. Whether this means is debatable, but the West cannot ignore the unintended consequences of the sanctions war.

NATO has been reasonably conscious not to let the war in Ukraine escalate into an all-out conflict for Europe. Sanctions do not know such accuracy. Millions of innocent people across Europe and far from its shores will suffer as food and energy prices rise. Supply lines are intermittent. Trade links break down. Victims are mostly poor.

It is clear that the goal – to force Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine – was not achieved. Military aid has been much more effective in this regard. But the damage to the rest of Europe and the outside world is now clear. The European Union should stand by its support for Ukraine’s war effort and lift economic sanctions against Russia. It is self-destructive and meaninglessly cruel.

Simon Jenkins is a columnist for The Guardian