Forgive me for working through a not-fully-formed idea that hopefully is not half baked, that the current sanctions war has put the West in the bizarre position of implementing reverse colonialism, after spending hundreds of years of building wealth, and sometimes even empires, on building colonies so as to control and exploit key resources or high value goods, like spices.
Many independent commentators have made a seemingly-obvious observation that is for the most part verboten in official discourse: that it was not so smart to keep escalating sanctions with a designated bad guy, Russia, when said bad guy is a large supplier of many commodities on which goods production in advanced economies depend. This approach is even more dubious in the case of Europe, whose two industrial engines, Germany and Italy, were particularly dependent on cheap Russian gas.
Of course, it’s not so hard to see how we got here: our feckless leaders, after decades of believing their own PR about Russia, had convinced themselves that the shock and awe sanctions of late February would prostrate Russia, leading to the rapid ouster of Putin and Zelensky and Victoria Nuland toasting each other in Moscow.
They managed to miss the obvious: that unlike the late 1990s, the Russian banking system was not dependent on foreign deposits, so it would not obligingly fall over with the cutoff from SWIFT and the seizure of hundreds of billions of FX reserves. They also missed the degree to which Western companies would self-sanction in dealing with Russia. The business and political press cheered when big brand name companies like Ikea and McDonalds and L’Oreal stopped trading in Russia.1 However, the self-sanctioning even early on went beyond formal sanctions. For instance, the US made a”don’t blame us” statement over the summer, that Russian fertilizer was not sanctioned. But that didn’t make shipowners less worried about carrying that cargo, nor did it help African countries who’d had their banking ties to Russia cut by Western measures.
The US and EU, having only mediocre hacks in charge, could not admit error and try to find a sanctions Plan B, which could have attempted face saving by being more surgical (“Oh, we really want to pound those evil Rooskies, but these vulnerable populations are suffering too much, so here’s how we are refining the program.”) No, the answer to failed and self-harming sanctions has been even more failed and self-harming sanctions. And the media has evidently done a great job of covering for the sanctions disasterr. Even with the start of some public pushback in America, the noise has been about shoveling ever-more taxpayer dollars into the Ukraine money pit and the risk of nuclear war, and not the sanctions debacle.
Consider where this own-goal economic program is winding up. Putin argued at the SCO that the US designs on Russia were ultimately colonialist in nature, and that put Russia on the same side as other victims of colonialism, which is pretty much everyone ex non-native North Americans and Europeans:
1 In the end, these were probably necessary reputational moves, plus the tightening bank sanctions would have made it cumbersome to keep operations going. Note, however, quite a few companies did quietly keep the option of returning open by mothballing as opposed to shuttering operations, such as continuing to pay rent.