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Russia Vs. Russians: Who Are We Against?

It’s been barely a week into the new year, and we are already reminded of a rough war still going on in Europe. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivered their speech as the New Year arrived, firmly stating their opposite stance on the war.


The unfortunate Ukraine War – or Putin’s attempted invasion of Ukraine, has been going on brutally for almost a year. Since its dreadful President’s official announcement of a full-scale invasion, Russia has facedinternational condemnation and numerous sanctions imposed on it by the powerful like the United States, their European allies, and international organizations.


The first round of sanctions already started in 2014 when Russia’s annexation of Crimea took place. These sanctions, however, were far from severe due to the world’s dependence on Russia’s rich source of oil and gas. Not until the bilateral high-strung political tension between the two post-Soviet nations finally broke into a destructive armed war in February 2022 were heavier sanctions put forward, aiming to brutally attack primarysources of Russia’s national gross income: oil, banking, and export.


The US, UK, and the EU have expressed their determination for drastic measures in imposing sanctions this time. Despite risking the loss of 40% of its energy supply, the EU decided to. Aside from cutting Russia’s earnings from its rich energy sources that would be used to fuel the war, Western nations have also removed Russian banks from the international trading market, disconnected the VISA and Mastercard services in Russia, and frozen all assets belonging to Putin and Sergei Lavrov, his Foreign Minister.


Not only hitting the government and governmental institutions that may assist Putin’s regime, but some sanctions also target individuals that are thought to have a good relationship with the infamous President. Wealthy Russian businessmen’s eligibility for “golden visas” that allow them to become British citizens hasdeclined. Several Russian billionaires, including the former Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich, also faced boycotts and sanctions.


Most sanctions are imposed to weaken Russia’s economy, and this is for a reason. Economic sanctions are usually to change the behavior of the target country’s regimes, individuals, or groups in a direction that will improve the situation in that country.” In other words, sanctions imposed on Russia now are attempts to force the Russian government, led by Vladimir Putin, to cease the war by either withdrawing their troops or losing the battle due to the government’s failure to fund its army. The fallen economy, on some rare occasions, may even lead to the people’s revolution that overthrows the dictatorship and helps bring the war to an end.



The wrench of Russian ruble under the influence of economic sanctions. Source: Freepik.


And it seems like the plan is working well: the Russian ruble is rapidly losing its value, the stock market has reached rock bottom, and no more international borrowing is leading to more severe debts and a serious brain drain. Though the head of the country hasn’t shown any visible sign of defeat, Russia’s immensely affected state is no longer deniable, making allies believe that their economic sanctions will eventually exhaust Russia and weaken its grip on Ukraine.


While the Western media are obsessed with tracking the worsening consequences happening to Putin’s government, the Russian people are left neglected. All types of sanctions undeniably have an immense negative impact on the daily life of Russian people, many of whom might be neither pro-Russia government nor pro-War. Methods are praised for their capability of hurting the culprit, but their power to break the inevitable victims is ignored.


As the economy worsens, ordinary people, the honest, diligent working class, are always the first and most vulnerable victims. Only three months into the wave of sanctions, Russian people had to cut down on their food consumption and suffered from the rocketing of mortgage interest. The withdrawal of international corporations like McDonald's caused the loss of approximately 60,000 jobs. People flooded to the bank to withdraw cash as credit card service was canceled, and they could not even make a public complaint without getting themselves into trouble.


Moreover, some acts may have gotten out of hand and become ethnocentric rather than pro-Peace. Earlier this year, the world’s largest publishers of scientific magazines announced a ban on up to 97% of information access imposed on Russian researchers. While this can be excused as a method to disrupt the area of scientific research in Russia, at this moment, weakening Russia’s strength, Russian scientists should in no way be punished and impeded from their career path. 


According to Science Business, most Russian scientists admitted that sanctions had hit their work. Some even couldn’t extend their 365 Office subscription due to card payment decline. Though they partially understood the moral reasons behind said sanctions, Russian scientists questioned how these sanctions against them would work against Putin’s government, mainly when their cases might even be used for Putin’s pro-war propaganda.


Not only science but also arts suffer from sanctions in an almost incomprehensible way. In 2022, two piano competitions in Ireland and Canada withdrew their invitations to Russian pianists. One of the refused contestants, the pianist Roman Kosyakov, shared his apparent disappointment on social media with a question, “I’m just curious, how this will help stop the war?” Meanwhile, in a video discussing the cancellation of Tchaikovsky’s concerto, the violinist-Youtuber Eddy Chen expressed his opinion, “I don’t know if cancelingtheir program contributes to the cause,” even though he could also see the argument from the other side.


Arts and sports are also attacked by sanctions. Source: Classicfm. 


Several sanctions have been targeting the wrong community. Russian people are suffering not because of their fault but their government’s, and there is hardly a way to leave since international flights to and from Russia are canceled mainly. Russians who dedicate their lives to science, art, and sports have their right to compete and showcase their talents taken away. Although some of these events were reported and faced backlash from the public, multiple large organizations working in various areas, from banking to sports, still insist on their non-Russian policy and treat Russians as badly as war criminals.


The event also reveals strong hints of inconsistency in policy and, as some criticized, hypocrisy from particular sanction-givers. For the last ten years, FIFA has turned a blind eye to Qatar’s outrageous violation of human rights by making it the World Cup 2022 host even though the country’s government killed thousands of workersin preparation for the tournament and oppressed the rights of women and the LGBTQ+ community. Despite repeatedly explaining “sports and politics should not be intertwined” during World Cup 2022, it banned the Russian football team from attending the tournament for political reasons.


Boycotting Putin’s government may be a way to raise our pro-peace voice and help end the war early, but boycotting Russian people only means the opposite. As Chen from Twoset Violin gave him, “Just because these people are Russian doesn’t mean they’re like pro-Russian government and pro-war.” It’s probably time for us to look back at our sanctioning activities and reconsider if they are targeting the actual cause or if they are being misled to come at another group of victims.

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