Moscow's central business district. The Russian economy has been severely damaged by Western sanctions since President Vladimir Putin invaded UkraineMarek Kubica

Article 50 of the 1899 Hague Regulations explicitly states that, ‘No general penalty, pecuniary or otherwise, can be inflicted on the population on account of the acts of individuals for which it cannot be regarded as collectively responsible.’ Nevertheless, in light of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, collective punishment of the Russian population has become the preferred tool by Western politicians and businessmen.

Rather than searching for specific measures that would encourage deescalation and save lives, imprecise and dangerous policies are being pursued. Media attention has largely focused on the seizure of superyachts and the freezing of assets belonging to billionaires, but the bulk of the action lies in the ongoing effort to destroy not just Moscow’s war effort but Russia as a whole. According to British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, the objective of Western governments is ’to make sure… that the Russian economy is crippled’ with ’punishing sanctions to inflict maximum and lasting pain on Russia.’

It is understandable that considerable segments of Ukrainian society support such drastic actions. After all, wouldn’t we all wish to use any means possible to bring fighting to a halt? The displacement of millions, the risk of nuclear accidents, and the desire to maintain Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty are all justified reasons for wanting to do something major and do it immediately. By cutting Russia out of the world economy, it is argued, the West can use its financial power to stop funding for the Kremlin’s military offensive and possibly even turn the Russian people against its own government, thereby bringing the conflict to a swift end.

"The targeting of the whole country has already begun transforming our own societies"

But is there any evidence for this? It may hamper the Russian state to some extent even though it largely produces its own armaments, which will last them a while. In country after country, economic warfare has primarily hurt the average citizen. In places such as North Korea and Venezuela, such policies have little to show for the deaths of thousands they have caused in the process. Why try it again in Russia? Additionally, the truly performative nature of some of these acts, such as the banning of Russian-branded vodka or exclusion of Russian-bred cats from competitions, suggests that this is primarily about making us feel better about ourselves, as if we are doing something of value when in fact we are not.

We are also harming the wellbeing of pensioners, destroying healthcare infrastructure in the midst of a pandemic, compromising the education of schoolchildren, among others that can be included in a parade of horribles. This is not to mention the impact on third parties. Tajikistan, Central Asia’s poorest nation, relies heavily on remittances from Russia. With the ruble’s fall in value, the livelihood of millions is at stake. Is all of this an acceptable cost for our policies?

The targeting of the whole country has already begun transforming our own societies. We are increasingly tolerating a nasty, yet socially acceptable, form of bigotry. During an interview, US Congressman Eric Swalwell floated the idea of ‘kicking every Russian student out of the United States.’ Meanwhile, Sweden’s former defence minister, Mikael Odenberg, was even more extreme when he proposed expelling all Russian citizens.

While both received some pushback for their outrageous statements, their willingness to say them in the first place is indicative of the normalisation of russophobic prejudice. The moral panic gripping the West (but not the rest of the world) has resulted in the firing and banning of Russian individuals on the basis of nationality. Banning Russian (and Belarusian) athletes from the Paralympics or celebrating the cancellation of Russian ballet performances by Britain’s culture secretary are just some of the many examples of when the emotional has overtaken the rational. Expectations of Russians to denounce the actions of their government have reached such a hysterical state that it is more akin to religious fervour than thought-out policies capable of preventing loss of life.

"Sympathy for Ukrainians ... does not preclude our ability to have compassion for Russians"

Just in the world of music, we have seen Russian conductor Valery Gergiev being fired from the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra after not complying with the mayor’s ultimatum that he denounce President Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile, twenty-year-old piano prodigy Alexander Malofeev was disinvited from the Montreal Symphony Orchestra despite actually having spoken out against the conflict. For the Cardiff Philharmonic, even playing Tchaikovsky has become verboten. In the realm of sports, Formula 1 driver Nikita Mazepin was fired from his team while the Russian national football team was barred from international matches. Clearly, anyone (alive or dead) with the misfortune of having the wrong passport is persona non grata.


Mountain View

Britain’s defence of Ukraine must start in ‘Londongrad’

The mainstreaming of this type of rhetoric began years ago, seen in the use of the term ‘Londongrad’ to describe the inflow of Russian capital to the City. If the concern was truly about corruption and money laundering, then why is there a singular focus on money coming from Russia? And why is it okay to say “Londongrad” but unacceptably xenophobic to refer to “Londonistan”? The singling out of Russian “oligarchs” (rarely applied to other nationalities) illustrates the fact that this is not actually about clearing the City of London of corrupt and ill-gotten gains but merely a cynical and opportunistic act.

Our sympathy for Ukrainians currently suffering does not preclude our ability to have compassion for Russians, who are also victims of ill-conceived policies. In our pursuit for peace on the European continent, we should strive to avoid guilt by association, collective punishment, and lashing out against the entire Russian nation. In the realm of international affairs, we should live by the principle of ‘first, do no harm.’