CONTRIBUTED TO THE GLOBE AND MAIL
MARCH 25, 2023
Petro Poroshenko was the president of Ukraine from 2014 to 2019.
Winter is now over, and the world appears to have successfully called Russia’s bluff.
For months, the Kremlin has been telling its favourite “horror story”: that the European Union would freeze to death this winter without access to Siberian gas. But as we now enter spring, the price of gas has fallen after an initial spike, and following Europe’s sharp decline in Russian gas consumption, a December effort to impose a price cap for Russian crude oil and petroleum products has proven remarkably effective; Russia’s oil and gas revenues were cut by nearly half in February, compared to the same period last year. Over the first two months of the year alone, Russia’s budget deficit already totals 88 per cent of the deficit it had planned for the whole year.
The Kremlin has also been using disinformation and intimidation to reduce support for sanctions in the West. But sanctions are clearly working. Three in particular have caused Moscow significant pain: the freezing of Russian state assets worth more than US$300-billion and the assets of Russian elites, oligarchs and billionaires; cutting some Russian banks off of the SWIFT global payment system; and restrictive measures against Russia’s energy sector. The aggressor’s war machine has vulnerabilities.
Next year will bring a new test. Key elections in the U.S. and the European Union loom, and Mr. Putin faces an election of his own, in which he will portray himself as the defender of Russia. The war will become his electoral banner at home. The world must knock this trump card out of his hands.
To do so, the world should cut the remaining Russian banks from the SWIFT system and freeze all international payments from Mr. Putin’s entourage. The message must be sent that countries that support Russia in its war against Ukraine and bank institutions that help Mr. Putin’s regime circumvent sanctions will face consequences.
All frozen assets should also be concentrated in a transparent fund under the direction of the U.S. and the EU to ensure transparency, to prevent them from falling into the hands of corrupt officials. This fund should be fully dedicated to supporting Ukraine.
And we need to cut off all reliance on Russian oil and gas. The global market has proven itself capable of adapting to the sanctions against Russia without significant shock. Russia’s share of global oil production is approximately 10 per cent, and that can be replaced by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, among others.
As a result of asset freezes and sanctions, Russia’s central bank now only holds about US$120-billion in its foreign exchange reserves, down from approximately US$650-billion before the war. Even this balance could be exhausted by the end of the year if current trends continue.
With a severe shortage of money, Mr. Putin will prioritize spending on his holy war, and ask Russians for patience. This means that an opportunity for Mr. Putin to appear weak and failing before his countrymen is within reach. We must take advantage of this potential for internal turmoil.
How can we achieve this?
First: The price cap for oil and petroleum products must be tightened further. Second: A supply quota and price cap should be set for Russian liquefied natural gas, which has been a gold mine for the Kremlin. Third: the Suez Canal should be closed to oil and oil-refinery cargoes of Russian origin, forcing Russian ships to use the route around Africa, which would cost more and eat into profits.
Fourth: flow from the southern branch of the Druzhba pipeline, which supplies Russian oil to Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic and provides Russia about US$4-billion in revenue every year, should be stopped; alternatives should be provided to cover energy needs, such as a pipeline through Croatia. And fifth: secondary sanctions should be introduced on those who buy oil that has been transported by Russia’s shadow tanker fleet, a clandestine effort that is allowing Moscow to circumvent export restrictions. These ships should be identified as Russian not by their flag, but by their real owners.
The fight against these ships is also important because they are shipping oil that generates billions of dollars of corrupt and secret revenues for Russia, which can then be used for bribing and shadow financing, including military spending.
Ukraine’s Armed Forces have been encouraging both Ukrainians and Western decision-makers to provide more weapons. The top priorities are shells and ammunition, artillery, tanks, fighter jets and long-range missiles. Critical decisions are being made on the battlefield, at the cost of human lives. But at the same time, we need to take steps to economically bleed Russia’s war machine of its funding, so that the starving monster turns on Mr. Putin’s regime and devours it whole.
“To do so, the world should cut the remaining Russian banks from the SWIFT system and freeze all international payments from Mr. Putin’s entourage.”
This constant foot dragging by the West over military aid to Ukraine and sanctions against mafia land is downright suspicious.