Fear of retaliation should not deter Ukraine from actions aimed at recovering its territory.
Dr. Mark Harrison is an Emeritus Professor of Economics at the Department of Economics, Warwick University. Among his research interests are economic history, defence and security, Russia, and the post-Soviet bloc. Dr. Harrison is also a Fellow of the British Academy.
What is your view on the latest developments in Ukraine?
I am encouraged and impressed by the recent successes of the Ukraine army, which is carrying the burden of Western hopes. At the beginning of the war, I was one of many who overestimated Russian military power, and I underestimated the resilience of Ukrainian society and its armed forces, so this has been a good lesson for me.
Do you think sanctions imposed on Russia are effective? Is there a way to maximize their efficiency?
I think economic sanctions on Russia can be effective and are being effective. But quick results cannot be expected from economic measures because, by design, they work indirectly. Also, they work in combination with other kinds of warfare, not instead of them. Sanctions on Russia’s economy combined with the war on the battlefield can gradually eat away Russia’s capacity to sustain its aggressive war.
It’s essential to understand which sanctions are most powerful. The most powerful sanctions are those that prevent Russia from importing the equipment, chips, and services that it needs. This includes the threat of sanctions against corporations in third countries (such as Turkey, India, and China) that might otherwise facilitate Russian imports by providing finance or insurance.
Other kinds of sanctions are less powerful or completely ineffective. In particular, sanctions on Russian exports are irrelevant as long as Russia is prevented from using export earnings to import Western goods. Of course, Western Europe should not rely on Russian energy. But this is because stopping Russian energy exports is Putin’s weapon, not ours.
Weakening the Russian economy requires a single-minded focus on trends in Russian imports and the countries that can provide channels for imports to flow into Russia. What matters is not whether Russia can earn dollars or Euros but whether Russia can spend them. The important thing is to stop Russia from spending them.
Do you think there is a likelihood of further escalation between Russia and Ukraine in light of the recent accident at the Kerch bridge? What do you think are the highest risks for Ukraine right now, and how can Ukrainian leadership cope with them?
The Kerch bridge is a symbolic target as well as a target with real military significance. Any symbolic target invites symbolic retaliation, which can also have real consequences. However, Putin can escalate the war at any time and does not need an external event to provide justification, so fear of retaliation should not deter Ukraine from actions aimed at recovering its territory. Rather, there is a psychological war in progress, in which Russia’s behaviour has already convinced many people that Russia will always escalate. The coalition opposing Russia has to convince Russia that the West will always have an answer to any Russian escalation. For this reason, I think Biden’s remark that a nuclear strike by Russia could lead to Armageddon was a useful thing to say. Russian leaders need to understand that they cannot expect to control the consequences if they are first to use nuclear weapons.