When the west talked about waging economic warfare against Russia in recent weeks, it was easy to dismiss the rhetoric, all the more so when Britain – to take one example – initially unveiled a limp package of sanctions. Boris Johnson’s mendacious bluster about being “ahead” and standing firm with Ukraine was recognised as such.
Johnson wasn’t alone with his chest-beating, however. European, and in particularly Germany’s, reliance on Russian gas looked like it might spare Russia the worst, preserving its membership of Swift, a key part of the international payments system, among other things. With Russia’s central bank having built up a formidable war chest of currency, it looked as if it would be able weather any limited sanctions-related pain.
But as Russian artillery continued to smash into Ukraine, a switch was flicked. The brazenness on display demanded response not least because, prominent in the minds of frontline states was an uncomfortable question: “Who’s next?” Those countries with a little more distance faced a different, but no less uncomfortable, query: “What do we do if this is just the first domino?” Those questions, as much as the horror unfolding on TV screens, turned the rhetoric real and the economic cold war hot.
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