How sanctions on Russia risk mass destruction of the global economy

Tuesday, March 8, 2022 2:14 PM

It’s the second-raters that stir up hell; first-rate people wouldn’t.—Dorothy Parker

Dear Friends + Interlocutors,

I believe this situation can accurately be classified as “Blowback” —the unintended and/or unforeseen consequences of U.S. foreign policy. 

And so can this! the very serious threat of world-wide food shortages. Blowback on a grand scale.  

I blame the busybodies, morons, incompetents and arrogant mischief-makers in Washington for the Russo-Ukraine war. 

But it is becoming clear to me that Europe’s leaders are equally to blame—for blindly and stupidly following Washington down this path.

From the South China Morning Post we get a glimpse of future chaos.


Western sanctions threaten to worsen the supply chain, inflation and debt crises already threatening a vulnerable world economy. An obsession with punishing Russia could end up punishing us all

Petrol prices in Santa Clarita, California, on January 28. Sanctions on Russia have sent energy prices skywards, worsening inflation. Photo: AP

The biggest immediate threat is inflation and events are fuelling the fires. Economic sanctions are being hurled at Russia with impunity or even a kind of malicious glee. They have become the weapon of choice rather than boots-on-the-ground military intervention.

Sanctions further damage supply chains already disrupted by trade wars, and they fuel inflation, especially for oil and gas prices – just what the world does not need. Oil prices, as analyst Jeffrey Halley at foreign exchange specialist Oanda said, were “on fire over Russian supply shocks”.

As Halley noted, there is a “slowly dawning reality that the world outside of Russia will also endure economic pain” in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the barrage of economic sanctions it has provoked.

International Monetary Fund managing director Kristalina Georgieva and World Bank Group president David Malpass declared in a joint statement: “Commodity prices are being driven higher and risk further fuelling inflation, which hits the poor the hardest … The sanctions announced over the last few days will also have a significant economic impact.”

That risk is very high. Supply chain disruptions caused by Donald Trump’s trade wars against China set inflation in motion, and it has since gone from a canter to a gallop. Inflation feeds on itself by creating inflation expectations, then pressure on price rises and higher wages.

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Oil prices are almost certain to continue rising, along with metal and food prices. The critical question is how central banks will react. The US Federal Reserve, for one, does not appear willing to hold off on raising interest rates – so look for further collateral damage.

Global financial conditions, as the IMF noted, “are set to deteriorate as central banks in advanced economies tighten policy to fight unexpectedly persistent inflation pressure”. Or as Georgieva and Malpass said: “Disruptions in financial markets will continue to worsen should the conflict persist.”

This is where the rush to apply sanctions will become really interesting. Once the impact of sanctions on market sentiment begins to manifest itself – in other words, once the “supply chain” of investment to stock markets is affected – the double-edged sword impact of sanctions will begin to sink in.

This is not the end of the story, unfortunately. There is another monster lurking beyond the horror of a hot war, the threat of a lasting cold war, the sanctions war and the spectre of rapidly accelerating (maybe even runaway) inflation – and that is the beast of global debt.

In an unusually frank discussion in the IMF’s Finance and Development publication, World Bank chief economist Carmen Reinhart and IMF director of strategy, policy and review Ceyla Pazarbasioglu revealed just how close the world may be to entering another debt crisis.

Their analysis deals with emerging market and developing country debt, where the surge has been greatest in recent times and, chillingly, they note that “economies are entering perilous waters that evoke memories of past debt defaults”.

Many emerging market and developing economies “have encountered crises at lower debt levels” than those now, they said, adding that: “Tighter monetary policies in advanced economies are poised to push up international interest rates, which tends to put pressure on currencies and heighten the odds of default.”

Heavy debt burdens are by no means limited to emerging markets. The sensitivity of the household, corporate and government sectors in advanced economies is also such that prospective (and almost certain) rises in interest rates could threaten debt crises too.

Much of the surge in government debt is due to fiscal stimulus designed to avert a Covid-19 economic recession but, as the IMF noted in a recent blog, “now, the bill is coming due. Governments face the tricky task of reducing unprecedented debt.”

The world is obsessed with the Ukraine situation and a desire to punish Russia with economic sanctions. But sanctions in themselves can be weapons of mass destruction in causing a fallout in global economic activity. When you take a wrecking ball to a task, remember that the ball can also swing back and hit home.

Anthony Rowley is a veteran journalist specialising in Asian economic and financial affairs