Kremlin Could Interpret West’s Sanctions As War Declaration: Expert

  • Russia may see Western economic sanctions as a declaration of war, an expert has warned.
  • Nathanael Tilahun said Russia “might want to escalate through military treatments against the West.”
  • Western sanctions have hurt Russia’s economy and helped send the ruble to a record low.

Russia could interpret sweeping economic sanctions imposed by the West as declaration of war, an expert has warned.

The measures amount to a “blitzkrieg” that will “basically bring Russia’s economy to its knees,” with the effects to be felt by “every single individual Russian,” Nathanael Tilahun, an assistant professor and economic sanctions expert at Coventry University, told Insider .

The US, UK, European Union, Canada, and Switzerland are among those to have imposed sanctions on Russia after it invaded Ukraine. The measures include banning transactions with Russia’s central bank, cutting off some Russian banks’ access to Swift, the international payment system, imposing sanctions on individual oligarchs, and targeting President Vladimir Putin himself. The sanctions have helped send the ruble to a record low and contributed to soaring inflation.

Tilahun said: “My fear is the steep economic strangulation of Russia might be reinterpreted as another form of declaration of war. Then Russia might want to escalate through military treatments against the West, not just against Ukraine.”

The sanctions have had knock-on effects on the rest of the world “but the impact in the West is incomparable compared to the impact within Russian society itself,” Tilahun said.

Still, he said the West had room to escalate sanctions further, for example, by ending exemptions that allow Russia to trade oil and gas overseas and barring more Russian banks’ access to Swift.

Last week, Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia’s security council, warned that “economic wars have often turned into real wars.” Russian President Vladimir Putin said Saturday that Western sanctions were “akin to a declaration of war” but added: “Thank God it has not come to that.”

Financial sanctions are “ultimately the only tools that the West has available to directly pressure Russia, other than providing military aid to Ukraine,” Adam Hug, director of UK think tank The Foreign Policy Centre, told Insider.

“Given the scale of the crisis and the clear needs to avoid using direct military action in Ukraine, that leaves you with financial measures,” Hug said, adding: “You’re seeing a massive decoupling of the Russian economy from the global economy. “

Hug said that on balance, he didn’t feel existing sanctions went too far.

The United Nations said that as of Sunday, at least 406 Ukrainian civilians had been killed since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, and more than 2 million people had fled Ukraine.

Western companies have been scrambling to cut ties with Russia, shutting their Russian offices, closing stores, or ending online services or sales. People with cards at sanctioned banks have been unable to make international payments, and people are rushing to withdraw cash as the value of the ruble plummets.

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