Position Paper for Rezist Zürich
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there have been voices in the German language media arguing against an end to European gas and oil imports from Russia. Initially, one line of argumentation concerned the technical impossibility and the consequences for the European economies to do so. This line has already been refuted, so I will not pursue it here.
Another line of reasoning, which has mainly been present in the Swiss media, is based on an interview by military economist Marcus Matthias Keupp from ETH Zurich in mid-March in Legal Tribune Online. He makes two arguments there. The first is that the Russian military power is self-sufficient. The Russians, he says, are the second-largest weapons producers in the world. The material they use is already available, as is gasoline and kerosene. What they lack, they could produce from their own resources, independent of the revenues from oil and gas exports.
The second argument is that stopping oil and gas exports would primarily affect the supply of the Russian population. But Russian elites have never cared about the welfare of the population.
Both arguments look plausible at first glance.
The first argument is the weakest of the two, so let’s start with it. The logic behind the ban on ressources imports from Russia is not to deprive Russia directly of military resources, but of 40-60% of foreign trade revenues. Russian state propaganda has claimed from the beginning that the government would not care about sanctions because it can always supply the population. The primary goal of stopping imports is to show the Russian population that they have been lied to by their government.
Does that make sense, even if the population currently has no way to hold Putin accountable?
Yes, and that is because the self-sufficiency of the Russian war machine is an illusion.
Russia imported components for modern weapons even before the invasion, components to which it now no longer has access. Moreover, an army needs more than just weapons, ammunition, and gasoline. It also needs to be supplied with food, clothing, medicine, and hygiene items, which are slowly but surely becoming scarce. These are first lacking for the families of the soldiers, then for the families of the non-commissioned officers, and so on. Little by little, the entire chain of command is being weakened.
A strange argument against the import ban was put forward by the SVP (right wing party with sympathy for Russia) and is related to a quite peculiar interpretation of Swiss neutrality. This attitude probably also led the SVP representative in the National Council’s foreign policy committee to block the motion by Fabian Molina (SP), which would have requested the Government to stop oil and gas imports from Russia.
On this interpretation, the continued purchase of oil from only one of the parties to the conflict (from the aggressor!) would not unilaterally benefit one side, however the cessation of these imports would. If this argumentation were not clearly contradictory on its own, one could further ask whether neutrality is the only principle of Swiss foreign policy. Of course, it is not. Peacebuilding is just as important. Depriving the aggressor of the means to continue the aggression obviously serves peace more than continuing to finance it.
The reason that fanciful arguments against sanctions – including a halt to oil and gas imports from Russia – keep popping up is because of economic interests. This lobby tries to convey that enough has been done, that proposing a new format for peace talks or waving a few peace flags is enough to absolve us of any human responsibility for what is happening in Ukraine.
It is important to remind ourselves why Putin attacked Ukraine. A free Ukraine, with free elections, with a free press has proven since February 2014 that democracy is in fact compatible with the culture of any former Soviet republic. And that Putin does not defend Slavic or Eurasian values, but merely a greedy and brutal elite.
Ukraine is thus the proof that democracy would work in Belarus and one day in Russia. This scares Putin so much that he sends tens of thousands of young Russians to their deaths under flimsy pretexts.
There is therefore no reason why Moldova, Georgia, and the Baltic republics should not scare him as well.
https://www.focus.de/politik/ausland/ukraine-krise/mixer-waschmaschinen-kampfpanzer-bosch-fuer-putins-krieg-viel-deutsche-technik-steckt-in-russischem-kriegsgeraet_id_68970379.html, retrieved on 25.04.2022
„Als neutrales Land sei die Schweiz dazu verpflichtet, keine der Konfliktparteien einseitig zu bevorteilen “.
[„As a neutral country, Switzerland is obliged not to unilaterally favour any of the parties to the conflict “.]
In https://www.bote.ch/nachrichten/schweiz/svp-lehnt-sanktionen-ab-und-fordert-zusaetzliche-2-milliarden-franken-fuer-schweizer-armee;art177490,1380104, retrieved on 25.04.2022
Frieden, Rechtsstaatlichkeit und Sicherheit bilden das Fundament für Wohlstand und nachhaltige Entwicklung. Die Aussenpolitik stärkt dieses Fundament. [Peace, the rule of law and security form the foundation for prosperity and sustainable development. Foreign policy strengthens this foundation.]
In https://www.eda.admin.ch/eda/de/home/aussenpolitik/strategien/aussenpolitischestrategie.html, retrieved on 25.04.2022
https://www.ted.com/talks/garry_kasparov_stand_with_ukraine_in_the_fight_against_evil, retrieved on 25.04.2022