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Harsh sanctions strike the wrong Russians

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When the Empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in 1941, the Roosevelt administration embarked on an epic crackdown on Japanese Americans to limit their ability to spy for the enemy.

‘Internment’ camps were erected, and thousands of American citizens were forced to leave their homes and find their way in those prison-like accommodations. It was a disgrace.

Although tough times often call for tough measures, and at those times, some Japanese Americans could easily have worked as spies for their fatherland and thus helped the enemy achieve greater losses at America’s expense, one must remember it was the idea of a liberal democracy that made the United States then and now so appealing to so many around the world.

Issuing dictatorial decrees that restricted freedoms created a state of affairs less appealing to many Japanese Americans to fight for.

Since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the Western world has slapped sanctions against Russia, but also against oligarchs who belong to the autocrat’s inner circle.

Restrictions on Russian oil exports helped reduce Putin’s revenue in hard currency, forcing him to seek bilateral agreements with mostly Asian countries to export oil at reduced prices.

This was actually a very good arrangement for everyone because it helped keep global oil prices relatively low since their peak in 2022 and Putin’s revenue even lower.

Oil prices are down more than 25% since their peak last year.

Sanctions targeted Russian small and medium-sized companies and the manufacturing of smart bombs, missiles, and jet fighters.

Others, however, targeted the general population.

Sales of electronics and gadgets are now coming through alternative suppliers and vendors at a much higher cost.

Even prices of spare parts for most vehicles have skyrocketed.

All these clearly hurt the average Russian, who experienced a sharp drop in living standards without being able to do much.

Some see it as their patriotic duty to endure these shortages, while others are fighting the enemy on the front.

Others understand very well what is happening and are fleeing the country or keeping quiet in the hope their ordeal will end soon, along with that of Ukraine.

Inevitable

Clearly, most of these sanctions were inevitable.

International banking and credit card services from Western countries almost completely evaporated, leaving millions of Russians unable to use their money for any transaction outside their country.

It is not a pleasant experience despite the regime’s efforts to mitigate its consequences.

Imagine citizens of Nazi Germany in 1941 being able to travel around the world as if nothing happened.

Although Russians can still travel to many countries, particularly outside Europe, and North America, they do so at a higher cost.

But many Russians fled their country years ago and settled around Europe, including Cyprus, for many reasons, with freedom being perhaps the most obvious.

By targeting ordinary Russians and restricting their ability to do business and transfer money, the West is not winning their hearts and minds.

And that’s exactly what it should do.

Allow the diaspora Russians to continue to experience the kind of freedom they are deprived of at home and join forces with those who want to see a free and democratic Russia where people can speak, work, and make political and economic choices the way people do in the West.

They want to see their country governed by the rule of law, not by Putin and his chiefs and cronies.

After nearly a quarter of a century in office, Putin has concentrated absolute power with absolute corruption.

Now he is seeking to export his rule to former Soviet republics claiming they belong to Russia.

In his own way, he wants to make Russia great again.

America and its European allies are doing a decent job of keeping a united front against Putin’s aggression in Ukraine.

So far, they have deprived Putin of a quick and easy victory and helped Ukrainians prove that freedom and democracy are worth fighting and winning for.

Western support for Ukraine will not only help win the war but, hopefully, one day help bring people to justice for the crimes of Vladimir Putin.

But until that day, the West should avoid punishing Russians across the board and, at the same time, expect them to hold positive views toward their policies and objectives.

We need Russians of the diaspora to attack Putin’s narrative but also to help restore freedom and democracy one day in Russia.

It is not too late to think about the next day and of Russia after Putin.

 

Michael Olympios is Editorial Consultant for the Financial Mirror