Monday, 8 August, 2022

Sanctions against Russia and Our PM’s Call

Sanctions against Russia and Our PM’s Call

After Russia launched, what it coins, a “special military operation” in Ukraine on February 24 last, the Western nations were quick to impose a barrage of sanctions on Moscow in a bid to cripple its economy and bar it from pursuing the war by denying it access to essential global markets for finance, technology, goods and services. The sanctions target Russian banks, individuals, businesses, monetary exchanges, bank transfers, exports and imports. Major Russian banks were cut off from SWIFT, the global messaging network for international payments, while assets of the Russian central bank, which holds $630 billion in foreign-exchange reserves, were seized so that it could not offset the impacts of sanctions. The economic and commercial restrictions came at a time when the global economy is recovering from the fallout of coronavirus pandemic, which ravaged the entire world since the beginning of 2020.

Russia is a major exporter of oil, grain and other essential commodities. Its biggest export is crude oil while refined petroleum -- petrol, diesel, gas and coal – is next on the list. Russia is also the world’s largest exporter of wheat. The entire world is now a global village with all countries connected with each other deeply. The global economy is also far more integrated at present. As a result, the sanctions against Russia have had a major effect on the global economy. The sanctions are changing the global economic system and those have lasting implications. The restrictions are affecting the global economy in two ways – pushing up the commodity prices and disrupting the supply chains of essential items. After the Russia-Ukraine war broke out, the prices of oil and natural gas went up sharply across the globe. At the same time, the food grains have also got costlier. The import-export business across the globe, especially to and from Russia and Ukraine, has been disrupted severely. Many countries cannot procure necessary food grains, oil and fuel due to the disruption to the supply chains and inflated prices. The punitive action taken by the Western nations is causing sufferings not only for the people of Russia but also of all countries across the globe and it has sparked fears of a global hunger crisis.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), world food prices remain near all-time high despite a fall in June. Russia and Ukraine, whose vast grain-growing regions are among the world's main breadbaskets, account for a huge share of the world’s exports in several major commodities, including wheat, vegetable oil and corn. Russia's wheat yield, which together with Ukraine's represents a quarter of global wheat supplies, was expected to be exceptionally good this year, the FAO said on July 8.

According to a recent report of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), a staggering 71 million more people around the world are experiencing poverty as a result of soaring food and energy prices following the Russia-Ukraine war. It said 51.6 million more people fell into poverty in the first three months after the war, living off $1.90 a day or less. This pushed the total number globally on this threshold to 9pc of the world’s population. An additional 20 million people slipped to the poverty line of $3.20 a day. In low-income countries, families spend 42pc of their household incomes on food but as the Western nations moved to sanction Russia, the price of fuel and staple food items like wheat, sugar and cooking oil soared. Ukraine’s blocked ports and its inability to export grains to low-income countries further drove up prices, pushing tens of millions quickly into poverty. Many countries have been compelled to take drastic measures, including reduction of fuel use and stopping imports of non-essential items, to cope with the situation.

When the people of the entire world are bearing the brunt of the price hike following the sanctions against Russia, our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has urged the US to withdraw the restrictions, saying their punitive action is causing immense suffering for people across the globe. “I think it’s justified to retreat from the act of punishing one country which is hurting the people of the whole world,” she said. She said the US-led sanctions were tantamount to violation of human rights as it is not fair to deprive all humans of their basic rights while punishing a single country. Hasina said it is unfortunate that when the whole world is being affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine war has brought more miseries for people. “Above all, the US-imposed sanctions have blocked the availability of items that Bangladesh imports,” she said.

The transportation cost has gone up while the pockets of availability of the goods have shrunk, she said. She also said this is not only for Bangladesh, the US, Europe, England and the whole world are also affected by the sanctions. "People are the sufferers. The developed countries should specially think about it," she said. Hasina said the US should understand that the sanctions are inflicting pain on their own people too. They also should look into the matter. "You want to hurt a country by slapping sanctions. But how much are they affected?" she questioned.

She said the people of other countries -- from low-income to developing and developed ones -- are much more affected by the restrictions. The war and the subsequent sanctions have hit Bangladesh just when it is recovering from the adverse effects of the coronavirus pandemic. “This is really a great challenge for us.” She also mentioned that the war should not prevent transportation of goods from one country to another and the international trading must continue uninterrupted. She pointed out that the supply of food is being greatly hampered by the sanctions and it is affecting many developed countries too.

Our prime minister’s call for lifting the sanctions against Russia is very much justified and a timely one. This is indeed a testament to her farsightedness. She made the call to save not only the people of Bangladesh but also the inhabitants of the entire world as there will be a devastating situation if the sanctions remain in force. So, attention should be given to her call and the sanctions against Russia should be lifted to avert a global hunger crisis. No one has the right to punish all the countries only to hurt a certain nation. As a result of their action against a single country, people of all the countries, including theirs, are paying the price dearly. Prices of all the essential commodities have skyrocketed and supply chains have been disrupted globally. The global inflation has reached all-time high. If the war lingers, the situation will turn volatile and many countries will face famine.

The world should have tried to prevent the Russia-Ukraine war before it broke out. There should have been diplomatic efforts so that the world saw no war. Before getting involved in the war, Ukraine, lying in the “belly” of Russia, should have also kept in mind that the war would cause damage for it, not other countries. And in reality, this is happening too. It is Ukraine which is losing territories and soldiers on the battlefields.

Russia launched the war as it was worried that Ukraine would join NATO that would be a threat to Russia. Its key demand was that Ukraine remains neutral and did not join the military alliance with the US and Europe. If Ukraine accepted the demand, which it did after the war broke out, we might not have seen the war. Around 20 days after Russia launched the war, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky accepted that his country would not become a member of NATO. However, time was already over. By the time, Russia tagged four conditions for halting the military operation in Ukraine in a ‘moment’. Moscow was demanding that Ukraine cease military action, change its constitution to enshrine neutrality, acknowledge Crimea as Russian territory and recognise the separatist republics of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states.

Time is running out but is not over yet. Sanctions against Russia should be lifted for the betterment of the entire world. At the same time, steps should be taken through diplomatic channels to end the war through addressing the concerns of both Russia and Ukraine for the sake of humanity and people’s survival. In this age of globalisation, a war affects every country. No one can remain unaffected by it. So, war is not desirable. Every country should do their part to end the war. Then, peace will return to the world and people’s survival will not be at stake.

The writer is a Senior Sub-editor, the Daily Sun

Source: Sun Editorial