Yves here. This discussion with Michael Hudson on RT focuses on the real meaning of the Ukraine-Russia gas deal. One point that Hudson makes that readers might doubt is that Russia loves the US sanctions. I’m not sure “love” is the right word, but there is reason to think they aren’t working out as the US had hoped. First, they’ve greatly increased Putin’s popularity. Even the intelligentsia in Moscow, who were hostile to him, have largely rallied to his side in the face of foreign bullying. Second, the Western press may be overstating the amount of damage done to the economy by the sanctions. Arguably the biggest negative is the fall in the price of oil, which came about growth in Europe and China slowing, and the Saudis announcing that they’d allow the price to reset at a much lower level than most analysts anticipated. But the ruble has been falling, which blunts that effect, but increases the drain on FX reserves as Russia tries to keep it falling too far and will increase inflation. Third, the sanctions have allowed Russia to engage in protection of domestic industries as a retaliatory measure, for instance, blocking many food imports from Europe.
Now all good well-indoctrinated neoliberals will say, “Trade protectionism merely allows domestic producers to become inefficient and uncompetitive.” It’s not so simple. Development economists are increasingly of the view that trade restrictions can help smaller economies develop domestic businesses to the point where they can compete in international markets, while if they foreign firms in, they’ll find it nearly impossible to build any local champions.
A colleague who does business in Russia but has no deep loyalties there, says he sees no signs of negative impact of the sanctions in Moscow (he describes it as now looking like any post World War II European capital). This is confirmed by recent surveys in Russia, so the lack of meaningful impact on Russian citizens isn’t an artifact of his seeing only the better parts of Moscow. Note that the latest EU forecasts anticipate very weak growth this year and next, as opposed to outright recession.
This visitor describes how the sanctions are helping Russian businesses. One of his friends has the Papa Johns franchise. They used to get their cheese from the Netherlands, but those supplies were cut off by the Russian sanctions against Europe. So they had to buy cheese domestically. It was cheaper but not as good. So he is working with the local farmers and cheese-makers to bring the cheese up to the standard of the cheese he used to import. So he expects to eventually have cheese that is lower cost than what he brought in and of comparable quality. And if he succeeded, the cheesemakers will be more competitive in Europe when the sanctions are relaxed.
The shorter version of this story is that Russia has a large enough domestic market and enough resources that unlike Iran, it may be closer to being able to function as an autarky when its imports and exports are restricted. The open question is whether it can go through the pain of a reset, with some serious and painful short-term dislocations, and escape the slow strangulation that the US claims it has imposed.