June 24, 2022

As America and the allies impose devastating sanctions on Russia for invasion of Ukraine, the Biden administration has outlined two objectives: destroy the Russian economy and create domestic pressure on President Vladimir V. Putin that would force him out of power.

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The removal of Putin was enunciated as a prime objective of American foreign policy. President of the United States, Joe Biden, summed it up, “Putin cannot remain in power.”

Theodore Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, or Donald Trump would have asked what America’s national interest is being served getting into the Russia-Ukrainian morass. The essence of raison d’être is risk-benefit analysis. But Joe Biden doesn’t bother himself with such trifles; he paid no attention to Russia’s impact on the global economic system or Russian endurance and showed ignorance of Russian political culture.

At the time of this writing, the West has imposed six rounds of sanctions. The sanctions proved to be a double-edged sword. It may be debatable whom the sanctions hurt more, but what is not debatable is that the Russians have a much higher threshold for suffering than Western society.  

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The whole history of Russia is a history of suffering. Hence, no matter how bad the situation may be, Russians remember when it was worse. As a testament to stoic Russian endurance, Russian poet Nekrasov in his famous poem “Railroad” describing the inhumane conditions of builders of the Moscow-St. Petersburg railroad wrote:

“Don’t you worry about your fatherland….

Russian people endure everything that the Lord sends!”

What the Lord sent this time was not too bad in comparison. There is plenty of evidence that Russia’s economy successfully adapts to the new economic reality. Russians learn to live with the sanctions and, in some areas, to benefit from them. According to Bloomberg, Russia recorded the largest current-account surplus since at least 1994, as revenue from oil and gas export surged not despite the sanctions but because of the sanctions. It shouldn’t come as a surprise. The price of gas went up five-fold, and the price of oil rose by 60%, since the imposition of sanctions. So, even selling oil at a discount from artificially elevated prices, Moscow is making a killing.

It is not to say that Russia is unscathed by the sanctions. Russians experience shortages from paper towels to computer chips, from Coca-Cola to modern technologies and airplane spare parts. However, the goods and materials are not the necessities for survival. Food and energy are, and Russia enjoys an abundance of both. Hence, even if the West imposes twelve or twenty-four rounds of sanctions and keeps them in place for the next hundred years, they will not soften Moscow’s implacable determination.

Under a familiar Cold War banner – West against Russia — Putin rallied the country to support military operations against Ukraine. Indeed, according to the New York Times, Russians are giving Putin 83% approval for his actions (other sources estimate the approval rating around 70%). Ironically, the U.S. and NATO allies’ massive arms supply to Ukraine, especially the pending supply of German armor, invokes memories of the Second World War, validating Putin’s narrative and hardening Russian morale.