That prices were rising before is not in doubt, fueled, if that’s the word, by the reduction of the supply of Russian gas and oil to the West as a precursor to the bloody events of this week.
And as the Ukrainian flag fluttered over Edinburgh City Chambers and councillors expressed sympathies with twin city Kiev, some unhinged SNP representatives fell over themselves to spit condemnation of the so-called “Tory cost-of-living crisis” with no mention of Russia’s pivotal role in the deteriorating economic situation.
Lord Provost Frank Ross used a break in proceedings to send a letter of solidarity to Kiev Major Vitali Klitschko; if only this dreadful situation could be settled by the former world heavyweight champion squaring up to judo black belt Vladimir Putin in a cage, and my money would be on a hasty Russian withdrawal.
If that appears trite, nothing from the Kremlin in recent weeks suggests Europe’s first full-scale war since 1945 is anything other than a lethal ego trip by one mendacious narcissist, a violent expression of Vladimir Putin’s burning desire to take his place in history as the man who rebuilt the Russian Empire, an ambition for which even at this far remove we will all pay a price.
After weeks of deception and lying, and the turning of an economic tourniquet, February 24, 2022 will be, in the words of Franklin Roosevelt, a date which will live in infamy.
Except unlike December 7, 1941, the United States, or any other country, is not about to declare war. There are parallels with 1939, not just because this is a blitzkrieg on the scale of Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland, but because it resulted in Soviet occupation too.
However, there will be no all-out European war, with UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace making it clear yesterday that the RAF will not enforce a no-fly zone the Ukranians crave.
Ukraine-Russia conflict: Nato allies to prepare next steps after ‘horrific’ rock…
This is Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968; a violent repression to put Ukraine firmly back under the Kremlin’s unchallengeable political, military, economic and cultural control.
In a chilling echo of 1956, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy believes he is on an assassination list, and will suffer the same fate as Imre Nagy, the Hungarian leader executed on the orders of Nikita Khrushchev.
In sitting rooms and bars, it’s easy to be amateur strategists, dusting down the old Napoleonic board games and a snap Savanta ComRes poll yesterday showed a surprisingly high 41 per cent of UK adults support Nato military action.
But as this war is the tragic expression of one man’s messianic ambition on a global scale, the restoration of Ukraine’s freedom will only be achieved by Putin’s removal and that relies entirely on the Russian people, which inevitably returns to the cost-of-living crisis and, sadly, the impact of the invasion not only on ordinary Russians but us all.
Within hours of the invasion, Brent Crude went over $100 a barrel for the first time since 2014 and European gas shot up by 70 per cent. With the real possibility that Russian gas supplies to Europe will be severed altogether in retaliation for economic sanctions, all prices will be impacted because of the transport costs and the use of hydro-carbons in the vast majority of goods.
The case for exploiting the Cambo fields off Shetland must now be overwhelming. With Russia and Ukraine responsible for just under a third of the world’s wheat production, half its sunflower seeds and oil, and a major exporter of fertilizer, the price of staple foods could soar too much and the current UK inflation rate of 5.4 per cent is unlikely to be near the top of the curve.
However, it works both ways. Inflation in Russia is already running at 8.7 per cent, the rouble lost 7.9 per cent of its value against the dollar by 5pm on Thursday while the Moscow stock market plunged. Some 60 per cent of Russia’s GDP comes from fossil fuels and if prices soar here because of lack of supply, over-supply in Russia will not help an economy highly reliant on raw materials which could lose most of their markets.
For those raw materials Russians get services and manufactured goods in return, the kind of products which have transformed its major cities from dreary, monochrome retail deserts to glittering emporia frequented by kleptocrats and ordinary citizens alike.
Mother Russia’s history is of an autocratic elite entirely impervious to the extreme suffering of the masses, but now the people, especially the young and educated, know a different life to that of their parents or grandparents; they are digitally connected to the world, they can go to McDonalds, they can buy BMWs and Mercedes, they can wear the latest designer clothes. And they have tasted political freedom; Unlike their forebears, they know what they stand to lose.
Not that Putin gives monkeys about any of this. Russia has amassed the world’s fourth-largest foreign currency reserve, which is why ejecting Russia from the Belgian-based international Swift payments system is as vital as the other sanctions against Russian banks.
But in what looks very like self-interest, EU countries are reluctant to remove Russia from the mechanism, finding reasons not to do the one thing which would make international trading all but impossible for Putin’s regime. There will be a cost for everyone, but what war doesn’t cost money?
Hit the Russian economy hard and the 1,700 protesters arrested at the many instant anti-war demonstrations will only be the start. Putin must go, and if EU leaders are serious about helping Ukraine they need to give Russians the incentive to be rid of him. Swift action is essential.
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