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Russian Revisionism and the Sources of Western Weakness

The advanced economies of the G7 and the EU have three obvious problems when it comes to stopping Russia’s aggression in Ukraine: dependence on oil, an unwillingness to confront China, and the moral poverty of some business leaders. But there is a deeper weakness – one that is not lost on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

WASHINGTON, DC/KYIV – Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine at the end of February 2022 marked the start of a new geopolitical epoch. Following the end of the Cold War in 1989-91, it was widely agreed that European countries would no longer invade each other. Too many wars over too many centuries had shown that promoting trade and investment is a much better way to build and sustain prosperity. By launching a war of aggression, Russia flagrantly violated that understanding, killing and wounding tens of thousands of civilians in the process.

Russia is huge in geographic terms, but its economy is tiny relative to the economies of the West, with GDP amounting to just $2 trillion, compared to over $27 trillion in the US and nearly $20 trillion in the European Union. Including the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, and Australia, the Russian economy is perhaps one-thirtieth the size of the economies which proclaim strong support for Ukraine ($2 trillion versus $60 trillion). And Russia has benefited greatly from its trade and investment links with Europe and other industrial democracies in recent decades.

Given this, why have Western economic sanctions proved unable to stop Russia’s illegal aggression? What, if anything, can be done to make them more effective?