By Robert Hornak
Sanctions against Russia for their unwarranted invasion of Ukraine are having a strong effect. Russia is suffering from a major decrease in the export of arms and struggling with an inability to replenish offensive military hardware they are using today. Naturally, Russia continues to search for workarounds to the sanctions, and like playing “whack-a-mole” we must continue to find the holes and plug them.
And, while the Russian economy shows signs of bouncing back in the short-term, the news of Russia’s collapse in the defense industrial base is evidence that sanctions are having an impact, and the military sector of the Russian economy is struggling. On July 21, 2022, Foreign Policy reported, “inside the Pentagon, top officials also see major impacts on Russia’s defense industrial base from pursuing the war in Ukraine as a result of U.S. and Western sanctions, which have already eroded the Kremlin’s ability to restock complex parts, such as guidance systems and microchips used in precision-guided munitions.”
They estimate that Russia accounts for about 20% of all global arms sales, therefore any reduction in the export of arms hurts the Russian economy. Russia is also having trouble “getting spare parts for Soviet-era systems that are featuring heavily in Ukraine.” These are real challenges for the Russian economy due to strong sanctions.
The big question is whether the sanctions are strong enough and how fill the holes that will result in even more pressure on the Russian economy. One recent push is for a ban on the import of Russian extracted gold. Euro News reports, “The European Union has agreed to ban imports of Russian gold, including jewelry, and freeze the assets of Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank.” This was a unanimous push and a way for the EU to find other pressure points to use to inflict some economic pressure on Russia.
Russia is still talking tough, so these new measures seem timely. The AP reported on July 21, 2022, “Russian shelling pounded a densely populated area in Ukraine’s second-largest city Thursday, killing at least three people and injuring at least 23 others with a barrage that struck a mosque, a medical facility and a shopping area, according to officials and witnesses.” This is at a time when Russia is publicly declaring plans to seize more Ukrainian land.
With the ban on Russian gold, some wonder why other metals are not also the subject of bans. For example, The Wall Street Journal reports, “The European Union blocked a proposal to sanction Russian metals company VSMPO-Avisma PJSC at the last minute, EU diplomats said, after France and other member states objected to the move over fears of a potential retaliatory ban by Russia on titanium exports to the bloc.”
The company supplies the European aerospace company Airbus with titanium to make aircraft. Airbus has been one of the strongest opponents to any ban on titanium, lobbying very actively to protect their ability to purchase Russian titanium.
The report indicated that “European officials have been discussing for months the possibility of extending existing bans on Russian raw materials to titanium, palladium and nickel. EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said in April the bloc needed to diversify away from Russian supplies of these products.”
Now, it seems that Airbus was successful in their lobbying, and they were granted veto power over any move to include titanium in the most recent sanctions passed by the EU. The Russian titanium maker in question received an exemption that will keep the Russian maker in business and helping to bolster the Russian economy.
A spokesman for the company was quoted in Business Insider as saying that “Sanctions on Russian titanium would hardly harm Russia, because they only account for a small part of export revenues there. But they would massively damage the entire aerospace industry across Europe.” It appears that if Airbus was in the market for gold plated aircraft, then the EU might have a hard time banning gold imports too.
It is important to fill the gaps that allow Russia workarounds in sanctions and one way would be to plug the titanium hole that exists today. At a minimum, the U.S. government should find ways to prevent Airbus from selling aircraft containing Russian sourced titanium in the United States as one way to put some pressure on Airbus to stop blocking sanctions against Russia. The signal must be sent that there is something greater at stake than temporary business interests and skirting international efforts to make Russia regret their aggression will not be acceptable.
Robert Hornak is a Republican campaign strategist. He previously served on the staff of the New York State Assembly Republican Leader and was the longtime president of the NYC Young Republican Club.