Anti-Russian sanctions as tools of economic imperialism and warfare against Europe

von | 22. Mai. 2024 | English content

Lucas Leiroz, researcher in Social Sciences at the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro; geopolitical consultant.

Since 2022, several packages of sanctions have been imposed by the Collective West against Russia. It is said that the aim of these sanctions is to “isolate” Moscow at the international arena as a punishment for the Russian initiative to launch a special military operation for the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine – seen by the West as an “invasion” or “unjustified military aggression“.

Economic sanctions, as well known, are one of the ways in which the international society can react to threats to global peace.  As well as executive measures and military interventions, sanctions can act as a coercive mechanism against states that are infringing international norms and putting peace and collective security at risk. It is the collective West’s argument that Russian military actions against Kiev threaten international security and global peace, which is why, from the Western perspective, it would be valid to implement sanctions against Russia, in order to dissuade it to withdraw its troops – even if these sanctions are imposed unilaterally and without UN participation.

However, it is clear that the objective of these sanctions is not exactly the end of the conflict. Globally, the Western plan to isolate Russia failed, as virtually only NATO countries and their allies joined the initiative. On the other hand, the effects of these actions proved to be extremely harmful for Europe as a whole, as they interrupted the flow of gas, oil and other important commodities, hurting the energy and food markets.

Analyzing the situation, the US seems to be the only side that really benefits from these measures, since it manages to lead an anti-Russian campaign and increases Europe’s dependence on American resources.  This leads to the question of what the real purpose of these sanctions would be: to affect Russia or simply to guarantee American global hegemony over its own allies?


Anti-Russian sanctions

Sanctions against Russia were one of the first actions by the collective West to respond to Moscow’s military operation in Ukraine. Obviously, the initiative came from the power that can be considered the „leader“ of the Western world, the US – and was later supported by European allies. The end of economic relations, the drastic decline in diplomacy and the absolute and almost irreversible distancing from Russia were immediately accepted and implemented by Europeans.

However, although the sanctions obviously serve American interests, as they reduce the number of countries with ties of cooperation with Russia, they definitely damage Europe. Despite political differences, the EU and Russia have maintained solid economic cooperation agreements for decades, having had ties based on pragmatism and mutual benefit, ignoring ideologies.

One of the main points of cooperation was the energy and food market. As Russia is one of the world’s largest producers of natural gas – an essential commodity for both energy and fertilizer production -, Europe has become over the decades extremely dependent on the country for its energy and food stability. With regard to oil, the situation is similar, since the Russians were the largest direct suppliers of the product to the Europeans.

Without gas, oil and fertilizers, the crisis was extremely predictable. With the arrival of winter, energy and food prices increased rapidly and the European living standard dropped dramatically. A strong mass propaganda campaign was implemented in order to justify the price growth, with European governments trying to force their own citizens to accept that their suffering would be „necessary“, as Ukraine would be a „priority“.

Meanwhile, the US has profited by becoming more involved in the European energy market[1]. The prices of these commodities, as expected, reached exorbitant levels. And even so European governments subserviently and enthusiastically agreed to participate in the US sanctions plan.


Sanctions as tools of imperialism and warfare

As we can see, the sanctions seem to be an anti-Russian mechanism coercively imposed by the US, to which Europe is, for some reason, „obliged“ to adhere to. This situation of irrational subservience to the US is certainly not accepted by all European citizens, considering that there is a growing wave of mass protests against sanctions. But the European governments seem to be still committed to the anti-Russian coercive policy, absolutely ignoring its unpopularity.

There are many reasons why Europeans continue to accept such humiliating conditions in their relations with the US, despite damages and unpopularity. First, it is important to understand that even academically many experts recognize the imposition of economic sanctions as an imperialist mechanism.

For example, Sean McGowan, professor at the University of Oklahoma, presented in 2018 the thesis „Economic Sanctions as Tools of Economic Imperialism“, saying: “Sanctions could be seen as a form of imperialism, where strong established countries set the rules and norms for weaker, less established countries. In that regard, little freedom is given for norm creation by weaker states“[2]. In the same sense, in 1998, in an essay published by the Fordham International Law Journal, Professor Christopher Wall [also] associated economic sanctions with a new form of imperialism[3].

In theory, the US is imposing sanctions on Russia, but, as the data show, Moscow is not the affected side, since the emerging nations, which concentrate most of the world’s GDP, have refused to participate in the sanctions. Europe (EU + UK) proved to be the only side affected, as it now has to import from the US at higher costs products previously imported from Russia at cheaper prices.

According to the above-mentioned definition of sanctions as economic imperialism, the US seems to be the “strong established country” setting rules and norms for the “weaker” European states – which have “little freedom” to create its own economic norms. In this sense, US would be practicing economic imperialism against its own allies, not Russia, forcing them to adopt destructive and unnecessary norms.

As far as Russia is concerned, after a year of failed experience with the „attempt” of economic isolation, the only possible conclusion is that the Westerners are fully aware of the inability of sanctions to generate a real effect on Moscow’s decision to conduct a military operation. Isolating Moscow can no longer be the goal of those imposing sanctions, as it has proved to be absolutely impossible.

What seems to be happening is simply the practice of hybrid warfare, whose objectives go far beyond the mere economic issue. As well as being widely recognized as imperialist instruments, sanctions are also frequently seen by experts as means of warfare[4]. Even when they do not create sufficient economic effects to destroy a country’s stability, sanctions work efficiently as a destabilizing instrument, harming the global diplomatic environment and possibilities of international dialogue.

So, Russia has been victimized by a NATO-backed war in which Ukraine works as a proxy on the military front. But economically it is entirely possible to see Europe itself as the proxy working on behalf of American interests. Kiev, as a non-sovereign regime, satellite of the US, is „obliged“ to conduct the war „to the last Ukrainian“, in the same way that Europe, without any trace of sovereignty, is forced to maintain the irrational policy of sanctions against Russia, even if it hurts.

In the trenches, Ukrainians are coerced to fight a conflict they cannot win. In economic relations, Europeans are coerced into cutting ties with Russia, even if this has no effect on Moscow’s foreign policy. In both cases, we can see that the US practices imperialism and war against its own allies.


In search of sovereignty: a new path for Europe

After recognizing that the subservient and passive tolerance of the sanctions suggested by NATO (Washington’s instrument of aggression and military expansion) not only does not serve its interests, but also expresses imperialist and bellicose practices, what should Europe do?

An absolute and immediate end to all anti-Russian sanctions appears to be the most prudent response possible. There is no reason to maintain this kind of policy – not only because it is not Europe’s right to interfere in the Russo-Ukrainian situation, but also because they are measures without any practical effect against Russia.

Frequently, US-European relations are abusive and intolerable. And this is precisely the case with anti-Russian sanctions. The key to resuming development and overcoming the challenges of the contemporary world consists in guaranteeing sovereignty and rejecting all forms of foreign interventionism.

Only by recognizing that it is currently a victim of the US imperialism, Europe will be able to rise again, putting an end to the exploitation ties imposed by Washington and consolidating its own place in the new multipolar world.



[1]See: Maguirre, Gavin. U.S. LNG exports both a lifeline and a drain for Europe in 2023. Reuters. Dec. 21, 2022

[2]McGowan, Sean. Economic sanctions as tools of economic imperialism. University of Oklahoma.UCO – Graduate Theses [661]. 2018

[3]Wall, Christopher. Human Rights and Economic Sanctions: the New Imperialism. Fordham International Law Journal Volume 22, Issue 2 1998 Article 7

[4]See: Mulder, Nicholas. The Economic Weapon: The Rise of Sanctions as a Tool of Modern War. Yale University Press. 2022