A recent survey on Ukrainians’ attitudes towards a Ukrainian NATO membership shows that 89 percent would support joining the military alliance in a referendum – the highest level of support in the country’s history. Moreover, the convergence of membership attitudes between Western and Eastern regions in Ukraine displays a real loss of trust in Eurasian (pro-Russian) relations as a vector of development for Ukraine. This brief offers some perspectives on how public opinion has changed and what have been the crucial turning points. In particular, the brief digs deeper into the evolution of opinion against a NATO membership, as well as regional differences in attitudes. It also shows how every round of Russian aggression eventually has led to public opinion alignment. These changes not only concern a NATO membership but reflect a deeper transformation of societal values and a consolidation of the Ukrainian national identity, strengthening the grounds for a more democratic society.
The continued Russian aggression on Ukraine has disclosed several deep-running issues that have for long been undercurrents in Ukraine’s history and whose resolution is a key determinant of the country’s future. One such issue is the relationship with NATO, including a potential accession into the alliance.
The most recent survey on Ukrainians’ attitudes towards Ukrainian NATO membership, conducted in May-June 2023, shows that 89 percent of the respondents would support it in a referendum, 8 percent would not, while 3 percent of the respondents found it difficult to say (KIIS, 2023). The survey (which excludes occupied territories where it was unfeasible to conduct the survey) also shows the lowest ever gap in terms of geographic spread. 93 percent were in favour of membership in the Western regions and 79 percent in the Eastern regions, the traditionally pro-Russian areas where most of the Russian ethnic minority resides. In comparison, in 2017, 71 percent were in support of a NATO membership in the Western regions and 32 percent in the Eastern regions, respectively (Kermach, 2017).
NATO Membership Support in Ukraine Over Time
To gain a deeper understanding of how the public’s opinion on a NATO membership has changed over time, it is suitable to start in 2002, when former President Leonid Kuchma first announced Ukraine’s aspiration to join NATO. At that point the Ukrainian society could be almost equally divided into three categories; those in favour of joining NATO, those against it, and those who refused to take a stance/found it difficult to say/would not vote in a referendum (hereafter referred to as “indecisive respondents”), depicted in Figure 1. This was a very natural consequence of the late 1990s/early 2000s coexisting positive attitudes to both geopolitical directions – towards NATO and the EU, but also towards Eurasian integration.
Figure 1. Attitudes to joining NATO among Ukrainians, 2002-2023.
One framework for understanding this is the concept of social ambivalence, which has been highlighted as very typical for transitional societies such as Ukraine. For example, Reznik (2022) argues that, in the case of Ukraine the main reason for ambivalent geopolitical orientation is the need for “ideological ‘reconciliation’ of two civilizational directions different in essence and meaning within an unbalanced identity” (Reznik, 2022). Similarly, Golovakha and Panina (2003) suggest that in Ukraine, society simultaneously accepts the old social institutions, which have lost their legality during the transition times but have remained legitimate in the view of the public, and the new social institutions, which have gained legal recognition but have not yet been accepted by society. Ukraine is not unique in this context, similar processes have occurred in many transition countries, for instance in Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and others (see, for instance, Roland, 2000; Murrell, 2003; Gruszewska, 2014; and Becker, 2019). This literature documents a mismatch between old and new institutional structures in transforming countries, strongly associated with low levels of trust in society, resistance to new ideas, strong attachment to traditional behaviors and low social activity levels within society. However, such discordance can change drastically due to shocks facing a society, as illustrated by the change in attitudes towards a NATO membership in Ukraine from the early 2000s and onwards.
In the first decade of the 21st century the Ukrainian society gradually became more aligned against joining NATO. This process intensified after 2010, when Viktor Yanukovych was elected as the President of Ukraine. Soon after the election, the Verkhovna Rada (the Ukrainian Parliament) adopted the law “On the Principles of Internal and Foreign Policy”, establishing the principle of “non-alignment” (Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, 2010). This implied a Ukrainian commitment not to participate in any military political alliances, including NATO. This decision, alongside successful efforts from pro-Russian authorities in the Eastern regions – including anti-NATO propaganda – resulted in as low as 18 percent support for NATO membership in 2013, and 67 percent of the respondents stating to be against a membership (see Figure 1). Such anti-NATO sentiments can be argued to not only have prepared the grounds for, but also to have been explicitly used as an argument for the Russian aggression in 2014.
However, the illegal annexation of Crimea and the Russian aggression in Donbas in 2014 drastically changed the public’s opinion on the military alliance, increasing the share of NATO membership supporters to close to half of the population and thus exceeding the share of opposing or indecisive respondents for the first time in history. At that point 47,8 percent of Ukrainians were in favor of joining the alliance and 32,4 percent were against it (“30 Years of Independence”, 2021), and in 2014 the “non-alignment” principle was officially repealed. It was even officially stated in the Comment On Amendments to the Law of Ukraine “On Principles of Internal and Foreign Policy”) that the policy had been a decisive factor for the Russian aggression in 2014: “In view of this, the further continuation of the so-called non-alignment policy, which has already led to the loss of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, is contrary to national interests, poses a constant threat to Ukraine’s state sovereignty and territorial integrity, holds back the processes of socio-political and economic reform of the country, and limits Ukraine’s prospects to become a developed European democratic country within the European Union.” (Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, 2014).
Changes in public opinion in Ukraine is however not only limited to NATO membership attitudes. Naturally, there have been changes in election outcomes and voting patterns as well. Recently, Munroe et al. (2023) found a significant shift in voting patterns in Ukraine after 2014, reporting a dramatic decline in pro-Russian votes in Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk and Odessa regions that had all traditionally been pro-Russian. Still, about one third of the respondents were continuously negative towards NATO until 2021, when the share of those in opposition of a NATO membership dropped to 24 percent. Potential explanations for the pertaining negative attitudes include a remaining influence from pro-Russian authorities in the Eastern and Southern parts of the country, along with a lack of knowledge and awareness about NATO among the population.
Motives, Regional Variations, and Information Gaps
In this context, it is essential to highlight the Ukrainian’s motives for support, or scepticism towards NATO membership. A nation-wide survey from 2017 shows that among the majority of NATO supporters in Ukraine the dominant motive was the expectation of “security guarantees for Ukraine” (86 percent). On the contrary, those who did not support joining the alliance expressed concerns that a NATO membership might “draw Ukraine into NATO’s military actions” (44 percent) or “provoke Russia to direct military aggression” (28 percent). 27 percent were convinced that “Ukraine, in principle, should be a non-aligned state” (27 percent), and finally, 22 percent were worried that “foreigners and foreign capital will start to rule in Ukraine” (DIF, 2017).
Stereotypes of NATO as either protection or conversely, a threat, for Ukraine are subject to significant regional differences. While in Western and Central Ukraine the perception of NATO as protection clearly prevailed (81 and 68 percent, respectively), attitudes in the Southern and Eastern parts were more uncertain. About the same number of respondents (19 percent) considered NATO as both protection and a threat, while 25 percent of the respondents in the South and 30 percent in Eastern Ukraine didn’t see NATO as either.
The basis for these opinions is most likely a lack of effective information and a lack of understanding of the alliance, as well as the complex geopolitical dynamics involving it. Research has attributed negative attitudes towards NATO to surviving Cold War stereotypes and a lack of information concerning NATO’s specifics, functions, decision-making procedures, and the rights and obligations of member states (Kermach, 2017).
In the 2017 survey, almost every other Ukrainian admitted that they were not well informed about NATO. Only 55 percent of the respondents claimed to “know something about NATO”, while 22 percent said they knew virtually nothing about it. However, a majority of Ukrainians (55 percent) “would like to know more” about NATO, while about a third (36 percent) of the respondents did not express such interest (see Table 1). Also in this regard, regional differences are remarkable. In Western and Central Ukraine, interest in NATO was much higher in 2017 than in the Eastern and Southern parts of the country.
Table 1. Interest in knowing more about NATO among Ukrainians in 2017.
Public Opinion Consolidation
The most drastic change in attitudes towards a NATO membership has however occurred after the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, with the public almost converging in their support of a NATO membership. The ongoing share of NATO supporters exceeds 85 percent, and the increase in this group draws, to an almost equal extent, both from the number of those who previously were against the alliance and those who were previously indecisive. For the majority of those who consistently considered the “non-alignment” policy of Ukraine as optimal (26,6 percent according to Kermach (2017)), it has become obvious that this “non-alignment” strategy has failed to provide effective security guarantees.
Moreover, the perception of a NATO membership as a security guarantee is also changing. In the 2022 Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) survey, just below 40 percent of the respondents considered a NATO membership as the ultimate and only security guarantee, while approximately the same number were willing to accept other security guarantees. In the 2023 survey, the share of the former response category increased to 58 percent (with a slight difference within regions – 64 percent in the West and 48 percent in Eastern Ukraine), – while the latter dropped to 25 percent. Furthermore, 76 percent were not willing to accept forgoing a NATO membership as a condition for peace (KIIS, 2023).
Public opinion in Ukraine, including attitudes towards a NATO membership, has been drastically affected by the Russian aggression in 2014, and even more so by the ongoing war. As survey results show, each subsequent round of Russian aggression on Ukraine has only increased the share of NATO membership supporters and decreased the number of respondents indecisive on whether Ukraine should join NATO. Additionally, regional differences in attitudes between the Eastern and Western parts of Ukraine have also smoothened. These changes imply a deep transformation in societal views, where the meaning of living in peace for Ukrainians has transformed from the idea of “non-alignment” into perceiving a NATO membership as a security guarantee and a prerequisite for future peace.
While the transformation of public opinion is important per se, it is only one example of the groundbreaking changes the Ukrainian society has especially undertaken since the invasion in 2022. The necessity to fight the Russian invasion brought about unprecedented consolidation and feelings of a national identity. This, in turn, provides an essential foundation for building trust and active political participation, strengthening the grounds for an effective democratic society.
- Becker, T. (2019). Liberal Democracy in Transition – The First 30 Years. FREE Policy Brief. https://freepolicybriefs.org/2019/10/28/liberal-democracy-in-transition-the-first-30-years/
- Golovakha, Y. and Panina, N. (2003). Post-Soviet Deinstitutionalization and Formation of New Social Institutions in Ukraine. Ukrainian Sociological Review 2000-2001. Y. Golovakha (eds.). Kiev: Institute of Sociology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. https://nbn-resolving.org/urn:nbn:de:0168-ssoar-104184
- Gruszewska, E. (2014). Changes in Informal Institutions in Poland and Transition Countries. Equilibrium. 9(39). http://dx.doi.org/10.12775/EQUIL.2014.003
- Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation (DIF). (2017, July 5). Public opinion in Ukraine about NATO Opinion poll. https://dif.org.ua/en/article/gromadska-dumka-naselennya-ukraini-pro-nato
- Kermach, R. (2017). Attitudes of Ukrainians towards NATO: current trends, hidden motivations and tasks for the future. Public opinion, #30. https://dif.org.ua/uploads/pdf/2100498524644fee8972a303.37036874.pdf
- Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS). (2023, July 10). Attitude Towards Ukraine’s Accession to NATO and Security Guarantees. Survey Press Release. https://www.kiis.com.ua/?lang=eng&cat=reports&id=1258&page=1
- Murrell, P. (2003). The relative levels and the character of institutional development in transition economies. Political Economy of Transition and Development: Institutions, Politics and Policies. N. Campos and J. Fidrmuc (eds.). Boston, Dordrecht and London: Kluwer.
- Munroe, E., Nosach, A., Pedrozo, M., Guarnieri, E., Riaño, J.F., Tur-Prats, A. and Caicedo, F.V. (2023). The legacies of war for Ukraine. Economic Policy. eiad001. https://doi.org/10.1093/epolic/eiad001
- Reznik, O. (2022). Ukrainians’ European Integration Aspirations: from Ambivalence to Expression. Policy Paper. https://dif.org.ua/en/article/ukrainians-european-integration-aspirations-from-ambivalence-to-expression
- Roland, G. (2000). Transition and Economics: Politics, Markets, and Firms. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
- Sociological Group “Rating” (Rating Group). (2023, March 23). National Survey of Ukraine (IRI): February 2023. https://ratinggroup.ua/en/research/ukraine/national_survey_of_ukraine_iri_february_2023.html
- 30 Years of Independence: How Ukrainians’ Attitudes to NATO Membership Have Changed (2021, August 24). Slovo I Dilo. https://www.slovoidilo.ua/2021/08/24/infografika/suspilstvo/30-rokiv-nezalezhnosti-yak-zminyuvalosya-stavlennya-ukrayincziv-chlenstva-nato
- Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine (Parliament of Ukraine). (2010, July 1). On the Principles of Internal and Foreign Policy. Law of Ukraine No. 2411-VI. https://ips.ligazakon.net/document/t102411?an=&ed=2014_03_27&dtm=&le=
- Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine (Parliament of Ukraine). (2014, June 2). Comment On Amendments to the Law of Ukraine “On Principles of Internal and Foreign Policy” (Regarding Renunciation of Non-Aligned Status). Law of Ukraine No. 4982. https://ips.ligazakon.net/document/LG3UE00A?an=2
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, a broad spectrum of previously publicly available statistics on economic indicators has been removed from the public eye. This reduced transparency affects any analysis of the state of the Russian economy and assessments of the effects of sanctions. The strategy is also part of a larger disinformation campaign that has become an integral part of Russia’s war on Ukraine. In this brief we provide a short overview of the main indicators on economic activity that have been masked in various forms by Russia’s data producing institutions. We also touch upon some alternative strategies, employed to gain a better understanding of the actual state of the Russian economy while official data is unavailable or unreliable.
Following Russia’s war on Ukraine, Russia has ceased to publish large amounts of previously publicly available statistics on economic indicators. This reduced transparency affects any attempts to analyze the Russian economy with regular data and models, and is an integral part of the information war that has followed Russia’s aggression. In particular, it aims to reduce or obscure the analysis of the effects of sanctions that have been imposed on Russia by Ukraine’s partners. The reduced precision of this analysis is then used in various propaganda channels to claim that sanctions are useless and that they are, instead of hurting Russia, harming the EU, the US and other sanctions implementing countries.
In this brief we present a short overview of some of the most important statistics on Russia’s economic performance no longer publicly available (with a detailed list to be found in the Online Appendix). We also discuss some alternative measures to track the Russian economy which can be used to provide more accurate assessments of the effect of sanctions and thus reduce the impact of Russia’s data warfare.
What Data is Being Masked?
Russia’s cessation of statistical publications has occurred across several dimensions including foreign trade, budget, and finance. Most notably, data has been masked by the Central Bank of the Russian Federation (CBR), the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation (Ministry of Finance), the Federal State Statistics Service (Rosstat) and the Federal Customs Service of Russia.
Data on federal and consolidated budgets in Russia was previously easily accessible on the Ministry of Finance’s and Rosstat’s webpages.
The Ministry of Finance has however, as of January 2022, ceased publishing data on budget expenditures. This includes monthly data for a wide range of budget expenditure categories such as spending for public administration, national defense and law enforcement, environmental protection, education, healthcare, social politics, mass media and culture. This data is no longer available despite the webpage for budget expenditures being updated as late as March 17th 2023.
Data on certain budget indicators is also missing on Rosstat’s webpage. While statistics on taxes, fees and other mandatory payments are available for 2022, budget expenditures are available only for 2021. This is however not surprising given that Rosstat receives its figures on the financial sector, including figures on public finances partly from the Ministry of Finance.
Foreign Trade Data
Foreign trade statistics is normally published by the Federal Customs Service of Russia, CBR and Rosstat.
Since the invasion, the Federal Customs Service of Russia has however stopped publishing statistics on foreign trade and commodity structure. The latest available monthly data on Russian foreign trade with its main partners (the EU, Commonwealth of Independent States countries and others), and the commodity structure of exports and imports – including processed goods and oil and gas – is from January 2022 (as of April 3rd 2023).
Foreign trade data from CBR has been withheld throughout 2022. CBR has however recently resumed parts of their publications and, as of April 3rd 2023, monthly data on total export and import is available for all of 2022 as well as for January 2023. Still, these figures display total exports and imports only and are not broken down by trade partner or commodity.
Similar to CBR’s publishing pattern, figures on export and import as part of GDP by use were unavailable on Rosstat’s webpage from February 2022 and throughout the year. As of April 7th 2023, quarterly aggregated data is however available for all of 2022. Monthly data on export and import by country is nonetheless still available only for 2021, despite the webpage being updated in November 2022.
To provide information on the national finance system and its dynamics is a main tasks of any country’s central bank, with Russia being no exception. Despite this there are about 40 financial indicators that, since the beginning of 2022, are no longer available on CBR’s webpage (as of April 3rd 2023). This contravenes CBR’s calendar, which states that statistics are supposed to be published in the next reporting period, i.e. the next quarter/month for quarterly and monthly data respectively.
The most deferred data (more than 20 indicators) can be found, or rather can’t be found, in the so-called External Sector Statistics category. For example, monthly data on balance of payments, remittances and financial transactions in the private sector, and international investment position of the banking sector is missing as of January 2022. Similarly, quarterly data on foreign investments, foreign assets and liabilities in the banking sector has been unavailable since January 2022. The same goes for data on external debt of the corporate sector of the Russian Federation in the form of loans, credits and deposits raised as a result of non-resident placement of Eurobonds and other debt securities.
In the so-called Banking Sector Statistics category, data on indicators such as assets, risks, operational data, international reserves and volume of FX operations is no longer available. Furthermore, figures on turnover of the interbank spot and forward markets have also been unavailable since February 2022.
Two comments are due considering the ease of access to above mentioned data/data sources. Firstly, in order to access the CBR’s and the Federal Customs Service of Russia’s webpages, one at times needs make use of a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Secondly, there are, for all sources mentioned, large discrepancies between the Russian language and the English language webpages, with the latter being severely patchier in its information.
Hiding Data: Reasons and Implications
What drives the authorities to mask seemingly relevant figures? Alexandra Prokopenko, an expert on Russian economic policy, argues that Russian authorities mask certain numbers related to the sanctions to impede evaluations of the effect of sanctions (Prokopenko 2023). Making the data less transparent and accessible in order to hide sanctions’ effect across various sectors to try and paint a better picture of the economic activity has also been a Russian policy goals. The head of the Federal Customs Services, Vladimir Bulavin, in April 2022 announced trade statistics were masked partly to “avoid […] speculation and discrepancies in import deliveries” (Uvarchev, 2022).
In this context, it is worth mentioning that Russia is obliged to report to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on several of the previously discussed indicators since the country is subscribing to the Special Data Dissemination Standard (SDDS) as of 2005. SDDS aims at providing transparent economic and financial data to the public and according to the IMF “Serious and persistent nonobservance of the SDDS, therefore, will be cause for action” (IMF, 2023). If Russia does not publish data according to the SDSS commitments, it could be excluded from the list of countries that subscribe to the SDSS. This affects how the country is viewed by investors and others and will further increase the risk premia that is applied to dealing with Russia.
Further, in its efforts to restrict insight into how the Russian economy is faring following the sanctions, the authorities have however created a large uncertainty also for Russian domestic markets, adding to the sanction’s effects. For instance, Elvira Nabiullina, Russia’s Central Bank Governor, has been arguing to revoke the decision to classify large amounts of data saying that investors, analysts and researchers simply need the data to do their work properly (CBR News, 2023).
Alternative Ways of Understanding the Real State of the Russian Economy
How can we learn about the state of affairs in Russia without the previously discussed data? While deducing Russia’s budget expenditures and many financial indicators may be cumbersome, more can be done when it comes to trade data. Specifically, a BOFIT Policy Brief by Simola (2022) proxied Russia’s imports and exports by tracking the imports of Russia’s main trading partners (17 economies) between March and June 2022. Similar proxying efforts have been made by Darvas, Martins and McCaffrey (2023), who tracked Russia’s foreign trade by considering detailed trade data from China, the United States, South Korea, Japan, India, the United Kingdom, Turkey and the EU, putting together publicly available datasets which span from January 2019 to January 2023.
Proxying trade data by considering trade partner’s statistics is emphasized by Sonnenfeld et al. (2022), who not only considers such data but rather a wide variety of available and reliable data sources – emphasizing the need to also crosscheck data from official Russian statical sources with more reliable ones (for a full overview of the methodologies used, the estimated indicators on the Russian economy and the implications from this, see Sonnenfeld et al. 2022).
Other efforts to map out Russia’s economic activity consider more creative methods such as using satellite data and/or ship location (AIS) data. Examples of such efforts include a recent Bruegel dataset which tracks Russian crude oil trade (Heusaff et al., 2023) and CREA’s “Russia Fossil Tracker”. For both examples, the authors utilize the location data for individual crude oil tankers, and (for Heusaff et al. 2023) combine it with data from OPEC, BP and Eurostat, to assess monthly crude oil exports from Russia to a set of major destinations (mainly the EU, China and CIS countries).
Similarly, satellite data has been previously used to estimate carbon emissions from flaring (Böttcher et al., 2021). While there is an ongoing debate on whether flaring can be trusted to give insight into gas and oil production (World Bank, 2023), one could potentially make use of such data to get a better view of the productivity within the Russian oil and gas sector following the imposed price cap mechanism and sanctions.
The struggle of creating reliable estimates for an economy polishing or masking information did not arise with the withdrawal of certain Russian statistics. The actual status of the North Korean economy remains much of a mystery to analysts (see The Economist) as the country, in 2017, was yet to publish a Statistical Yearbook. While Russia is far from North Korea in several aspects, the reality is that the alternative measures used to estimate North Korea’s economic activity (such as making use of Chinese trade data etc.) are partly the ones now being undertaken by analysts looking beyond the figures from Kremlin.
Russia’s decision to stop publishing regular economic data is part of the disinformation and propaganda efforts that are integral parts of its war on Ukraine, with the purpose being to complicate any analysis of what is going on in the Russian economy. While being partially successful in this regard, the data withholding likely creates further negative implications for Russia’s external economic relations and undermines the functioning of its domestic markets.
Given the lack of data following Russia’s disinformation efforts it is essential that any analyst concerned with mapping the Russian economy not only considers alternative but also multiple sources and consult experts with a plethora of competencies. Already today, new creative ways of getting hold of relevant data is providing increasing insight into the state of the Russian economy. With continued efforts, these measures will progress over time, improving our understanding of how sanctions affect the Russian economy.
An overview of all indicators discussed in this brief can be found in the Online Appendix. The information in the Appendix is valid as of April 7th 2023.
- Böttcher, K., & Paunu, V-V., Kupiainen, K., Zhizhin, M., Matveev, A., Savolahti, M., Klimont, Z., Väätäinen, S., Lamberg, H., Karvosenoja, N. (2021). Black carbon emissions from flaring in Russia in the period 2012-2017. Atmospheric Environment. 254. 118390. 10.1016/j.atmosenv.2021.118390.
- CBR News. (2023, March 17). Statement by Governor of the Bank of Russia Elvira Nabiullina following the meeting of the Board of Directors of the Bank of Russia on March 17, 2023. https://www.cbr.ru/press/event/?id=14629
- The Central Bank of the Russian Federation. (2023). https://www.cbr.ru/
- CREA. https://www.russiafossiltracker.com
- Darvas, Martins and McCaffrey (2023, March 23). Russian foreign trade tracker. Bruegel datasets. https://www.bruegel.org/dataset/russian-foreign-trade-tracker
- The Economist. (2017, February 9). How to measure North Koreas economy. https://www.economist.com/finance-and-economics/2017/02/09/how-to-measure-north-koreas-economy?
- The Federal Customs Service of Russia. (2023). https://customs.gov.ru/
- The Federal State Statistics Service. (2023). https://rosstat.gov.ru/
- Heusaff, Guetta-Jeanrenaud, McWilliams and Zachmann. (2023). Russian crude oil tracker. Bruegel datasets. https://www.bruegel.org/dataset/russian-crude-oil-tracker
- International Monetary Fund. (2023). Special Data Dissemination Standard. https://dsbb.imf.org/
- The Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation. (2023). https://minfin.gov.ru/ru/
- Prokopenko, A. (2023, January 20). How can you analyze the Russian economy amid data censorship? A guide. The Bell. https://thebell.io/en/your-guide-to-the-russian-economy/
- Simola, H. (2022). Russian foreign trade after four months of war in Ukraine. BOFIT Policy Paper No.5. BOFIT.
- Sonnenfeld, J., Tian, S., Sokolowski, F., Wyrebkowski, M. and Kasprowicz, M. (2022). Business Retreats and Sanctions Are Crippling the Russian Economy. https://ssrn.com/abstract=4167193
- Uvarchev, L. (2022, April 21). FCS suspends publication of export and import statistics. Kommersant. https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/5318414
- The World Bank. (2023). Global Gas Flaring Tracker Report. https://thedocs.worldbank.org/en/doc/5d5c5c8b0f451b472e858ceb97624a18-0400072023/original/2023-Global-Gas-Flaring-Tracker-Report.pdf
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine profoundly impacted the global economy, immediately sending shockwaves across the globe. The attack of a country that was once a major energy supplier to Europe on the country which was one of the top food exporters in the world, sent food and fuel prices spiralling, causing major energy shortages and the prospect of protracted recession in the United States and the European Union.
The unprovoked and brutal aggression resulted in nearly universal condemnation and widespread sanctions placed on Russia by the United States, the EU, and other Western allies. Financial sanctions were perhaps the most unexpected and significant with the potential for immediate impact on Russia’s neighbours, including those that did not formally join the sanctions regime. In addition to sanctions, the major consequence of the war was mass migration waves, particularly from Ukraine, but also from Russia and Belarus to neighbouring countries.
At the start of the war, it was expected that the Georgian economy would be severely and negatively impacted for the following reasons:
- First, as a former Soviet republic, Georgia historically maintained close economic trade ties with both Russia and Ukraine. The ties with Russia have weakened considerably in the wake of the 2008 Russo-Georgian war but remained significant. Russia was the primary market for imports of staple foods into Georgia, such as wheat flour, maize, buckwheat, edible oils, etc. Russia and Ukraine were both important export markets for Georgia. Russia was absorbing about 60 percent of Georgian wine exports and 47 percent of mineral water exports, while Ukraine was one of the leading importers of alcohol and spirits from Georgia (46 percent of Georgia’s exports). Tourism and remittances are other areas where Georgia is significantly tied to Russia and somewhat weaker to Ukraine. Before the pandemic, in 2019 Russia accounted for 24 percent of all tourism revenues, while Ukraine for 6 percent. Remittances from Russia accounted for 16.5 percent of total incoming transfers in 2021.
- Second, while the Georgian government chose to largely keep a neutral stance on the war (announcing at one point that they would not join or impose sanctions against Russia), the main financial and trade international sanctions were still in effect in Georgia due to international obligations and close business ties with the West. These factors were reinforced by strong support for Ukraine among the Georgian population, where the memory of the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008 remains uppermost.
- In addition, Georgia is a net energy importer, and while the dependence on energy imports from Russia is not significant, the rising prices would have affected Georgia profoundly.
Original publication: This policy paper was originally published in the ISET Policy Institute Policy Briefs section by Yaroslava Babych, Lead Economist of ISET Policy Institute. To read the full policy paper, please visit the website of ISET-PI.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
As of today, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has persisted for a year. While several countries have helped Ukraine with military, financial and humanitarian aid, Ukraine requires additional assistance to endure the conflict with Russia. What other forms of support and aid are needed for Ukraine’s survival? And how can the EU and Sweden support Ukraine’s victory?
The Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA) hosted a seminar in which Ukraine’s needs were discussed from an economic and political science perspective by several leading economists, including:
- Nataliia Shapoval, Director of the KSE Institute at the Kyiv School of Economics (KSE)
- Torbjörn Becker, IVA member and Director of the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics at the Stockholm School of Economics (SITE)
- Fredrik Löjdquist, Director of the Centre for Eastern European Studies (SCEEUS)
- Maria Perrotta Berlin, Assistant Professor at the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics.
Nataliia Shapoval, Chairman of the KSE Institute at the Kyiv School of Economics, joined the seminar from Kyiv to share her views. According to Shapoval,
“Tougher sanctions across the board, hefty sanctions on energy, additional sanctions on trade, and more control over financial transactions with Russia are required by the outside world right now.”
As Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has lasted for a year, seminar experts advocated for tougher sanctions against Russia and discussed Ukraine’s needs from an economic and political science perspective.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA) is an independent academy with a mission “…to promote engineering and economic sciences and the advancement of business and industry for the benefit of society.” Read more: IVA website
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed during events and conferences are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
Although much smaller than Russian exports of other energy commodities, Russian electricity exports to Europe have been a part of the European electricity systems. There are several connection points between the Russian and EU markets, but the Baltic States are the most exposed to Russian influence in the electricity sector. This brief discusses the Baltics’ dependency on Russian electricity, which currently accounts for 10 percent of the total Baltic electricity consumption. We argue that, while the Baltic states have some resilience (partly due to their connection to the Nordic countries), they are not immune to a complete halt to the Russian electricity trade, at least not in the short run.
The continuing military conflict in Ukraine and cut-offs of Russian gas to Europe are driving energy prices to unprecedented levels and creating concern about energy security all over Europe. The reliance on the Russian gas supply and the consequences of this has been profoundly discussed (for an overview, see e.g., Le Coq and Paltseva, 2022). At the same time, the topic of Russian electricity delivered to the EU has been largely left out of the current conversation.
Russia is exporting electricity directly to Europe, although at a much smaller scale than it has been exporting other energy commodities. There are several transmission connection points between the Russian and EU markets, but the situation of the Baltic States is the most precarious. They consume Russian electricity (about 10 percent of their needs) and their grids are still synchronised with Russia and Belarus. Therefore, they are exposed to some supply disruption and a desynchronization threat from Russia, potentially resulting in high market prices, severe congestion and even blackouts. Because the Baltics are connected to the leading power market in Europe, Nord Pool, any unexpected shocks may have consequences beyond the Baltic region.
Understanding how the Baltic States depend on Russia for their power consumption is an important element of the European energy security debate. This brief discusses the severity of the Baltics’ reliance on Russian electricity. We initially discuss the effect of a sudden halt to the Russian electricity trade in May 2022. We then address the potential consequences of the abrupt exclusion from the Russia-controlled transmission network. Finally, we discuss the future energy mix thought to replace Russian electricity in the Baltics.
The Baltic States’ Exposure to Indirect Imports of Russian Electricity
The Baltics’ exposure is analysed by examining the impact of a sudden stop of imports of Russian electricity to the EU in May 2022, which affected Nord Pool (https://www.nordpoolgroup.com/en/) prices as well as congestion in the Baltic States. This event cannot be qualified as an external shock, required for a rigorous empirical analysis. Nonetheless, it helps us assess the Baltics’ exposure.
On May 15th 2022, Russia broke off its electricity trade with Finland. This event is relevant to consider as Finland is increasingly a primary import source for the Baltic States. Any electricity supply disruption affecting Finland may therefore impact the Baltics’ energy system balance. To assess how the event impacted the Baltic electricity market, we compare the congestion occurrences in 2021 and 2022.
A standard way to assess the misfunctioning of a power market is to look at congestion episodes. The Nord Pool market, to which the Baltic states are connected, has several bidding areas. Prices between zones may differ in case of transmission bottlenecks. When transmission lines are saturated, no more electricity can, in that period, be transported from the cheap to the expensive areas to alleviate prices, referred to as congestion.
In the graphs below, we illustrate the congestion in the Baltics in 2021 as compared to 2022. Looking at the 2021 data for Estonia and Latvia, the countries belonged to the same price area most of the year; some price differences were observed in the summer months, but only 10 percent of the hours within those months were congested. In 2022 the price differences between the two countries grew substantially, since May reaching 20 percent, with more congested hours (Figure 1). In 2022 price differences also increased between Lithuania and Southern Sweden (region SE 4) as depicted in Figure 2.
Figure 1. Congestion between Estonia and Latvia (as percentage of congested hours out of all hours within a given month).
Figure 2. Congestion between Lithuania and Sweden (SE4) (as percentage of congested hours out of all hours within a given month).
Our aim is not to show a causal effect of the withdrawal of Russia from commercial electricity trading with the Baltic States region, but to describe some general, coincidental trends in congestion. Note that the congestion might be a result of the extreme prices observed in the Baltics – on August 17th 2022, prices reached the Nord Pool cap of 4000€/MW, the highest ever level in the region (Lazarczyk Carlson and Le Coq, 2022a).
To conclude, halting the electricity trade between Russia and Finland appears to have had some impact on the congestion in the Baltic States. Still, the consequences were not severe as the Baltics were already curtailing commercial exchanges with Russia and Belarus. Additionally, the Finnish yearly imports from Russia constituted at most 10 percent of the annual Finnish consumption.
The Baltic States’ Exposure to a Desynchronization Threat
The Baltics belong to the Moscow-controlled synchronous electrical power grid, BRELL, which connects power systems of Belarus, Russia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. This grid dependency makes it virtually impossible for the Baltic States to completely stop Russian and Belarussian power from floating into the Baltics´ territory. A desynchronization from the BRELL network is currently not feasible. Although the Baltics have invested heavily in grid extensions and upgrade, the connection to the European grid is scheduled only for 2024/2025. Therefore, even though the Baltic States have been limiting commercial trading with Russia and Belarus on the Nordic electricity market, they are still receiving Russian/Belarusian electricity.
The Baltics’ dependency on the BRELL network creates a potential threat to the Baltic electricity supply security in case Russia should decide to weaponize its electricity supply further and disconnect the Baltic States from the network ahead of the planned exit in 2024/2025 (Lazarczyk Carlson and Le Coq, 2022a). Such premature disconnection could result in severe blackouts, and immediate reactions would be required to keep the system operational. In such scenario, strong support from the Nordic countries via Finland and/or Sweden would be needed. It is however important to keep in mind that a sudden disconnection from BRELL also could harm Kaliningrad – the Russian enclave between Lithuania and Poland, on the shores of the Baltic Sea. Although Russia has invested heavily in expanding Kaliningrad generation capacities and its energy self-sufficiency, it is not clear whether the region is to this day prepared to operate in island mode without the support of the BRELL and neighbouring countries. Up to date, three successful operating exercises in island mode have been conducted in Kaliningrad, the longest lasting for 72 hours. However, the two tests scheduled for 2022 have been cancelled.
The future re-initialization of electricity trading with Russia is uncertain at this point and the role of Russian electricity has diminished over the years. The Baltics are not planning to maintain any transmission connection with Russia and Belarus after synchronising with the European power grid. However, the Finnish standpoint needs to be clarified. If the Finnish-Russian electrical power trade exchange is re-established in the future, Russian electricity might once again flow into the Baltics´ transmission grid as imports from Finland are forecasted to increase in the coming years due to a third interconnector, which should become operational in 2035.
The Baltics’ (Future) Energy Mix Without Russian Electricity
The alternatives to Russian electricity depend on the Baltics’ energy mix and transmission system. In 2021 the demand for electric power in the Baltics was 27 TWh, with Latvia representing 26 percent, Estonia 30 percent, and Lithuania 44 percent of the total demand. Consumption is forecasted to grow by 60-65 percent by 2050, due to the electrification of the economy and increasing needs within industries, housing, transportation, etc. (Nordic Energy Research, 2022).
All Baltic States are today net importers of electricity. The main import sources are Finland and, to a lesser extent, Sweden, which have jointly exported 45 TWh of electric power to the region over the years 2016-2021. Finland is itself a net importer of electricity mainly importing power from Sweden. Until May 2022, Finland’s second import source was Russia.
The Baltics are heavily dependent on fossil fuels in their electricity mix as illustrated in Table 1.
Table 1. Energy mix for electricity production (MW) in the Baltics, 2022.
The region is now trying to limit the use of fossil-fuel energy and expand its green energy potential, as extensively discussed in Lazarczyk Carlson E. and Le Coq C. (2022b). The actual installed capacity for the onshore wind is however insufficient, with 326 MW in Estonia, 87 MW in Latvia, and 671 MW in Lithuania. The current offshore wind’s capacity is non-existent. There are some plans to develop 4.5 GW in Lithuania, 7 GW in Estonia, and 14.5 GW in Latvia by 2050, but this will require substantial investments (European Commission, 2019).
The region also plans to expand solar power production, especially in Latvia and Lithuania, where the current capacity is 14 and 259 MW respectively. There are also plans to expand Latvian hydro production for storage and balancing needs; currently, Latvia has 1588 MW of installed run-of-the-river hydro capacity, the highest among the Baltic States.
Investing in nuclear power is another possibility which is currently being considered. As part of the EU accession process, Lithuania shut down its Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant, the first unit in 2004 and the second in 2009, turning the country from a net exporter into a net importer of electric power (IEA, 2021). A project of replacing the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) by a new Polish-Lithuanian Plant, the Visaginas NPP, was discussed but later abandoned. The Estonian company Fermi Energy, in collaboration with the Swedish firm Vattenfall, are currently looking into small modular reactor (SMR) technology to develop nuclear energy. This project is however in the initial phases of development.
Renewables and nuclear power are credible alternatives to limit fossil-fuel energy usage and dependency on Russian electricity. The alternatives might however not be easily implemented in the short run.
The Baltic States’ dependency on the Russian electricity supply is limited. Nevertheless, discontinuing Russian electricity deliveries is not innocuous for at least two reasons.
First, the Baltics are still part of the BRELL network, so they are still physically dependent on Russia, although they plan to desynchronize from this network in the longer run. However, a sudden desynchronization initiated by Russia may have severe consequences in the short run (e.g. blackouts).
Second, considering the forecasted future increase in the demand for electrical power in the Baltics and the Nordic countries, the Baltics will remain dependent on power imports. Today, the Baltics rely on Finland and Sweden, as all three Baltic States are net electricity importers. To limit any future dependence on Russian/Belarussian electricity, the Baltics plan to sever any transmission connections with Russia and Belarus after desynchronization, thus cutting the potential for future electricity trade with both countries. If, however, the Nordic countries re-establish commercial exchanges with Russia via Finland, it is nevertheless possible that Russian electricity will be flowing in the Baltics transmission system again.
This policy brief is based on a project funded by the Energiforsk research program.
- Benedettini, S. and Stagnaro, C. (2022), Europe’s decoupling of electricity and gas prices: the crisis is temporary, so why do it? https://energypost.eu/europes-decoupling-of-electricity-and-gas-prices-the-crisis-is-temporary-so-should-it-be-done-at-all/
- ENTSO-E Transparency platform. Accessed on the 25th of November 2022 from https://www.entsoe.eu/
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- IEA. (2021). Lithuania 2021 Energy Policy Review. Accessed on the 12th of November 2022 from https://www.iea.org/reports/lithuania-2021
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- Lazarczyk Carlson, E. and Le Coq, C. (2022b). Power coming for Russia and Baltic Sea region’s energy security, Energiforsk report.
- Nordic Energy Research. (2022). Baltic-Nordic Roadmap for Co-operation on Clean Energy Technologies. Accessed on the 12th of November 2022 from https://www.nordicenergy.org/publications/baltic-nordic-roadmap-for-co-operation-on-clean-energy-technologies/
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Is the Russian economy “surprisingly resilient” to sanctions and actions of the West? The short answer is no. On the contrary, the impact on Russian growth is already very clear while the economic downturn in the EU is small. The main effects from the sanctions are yet to be realized, and the coming sanctions will be even more consequential for the Russian economy. The biggest impacts are however those in the longer run, beyond the sanctions. Mr. Putin’s actions have led to a fundamental shift in the perception of Russia as a market for doing business. The West and especially EU countries are on a track of divesting their economic ties to Russia (in particular in, but not only, energy markets) and the country is simultaneously losing significant shares of its human capital. All these effects mean that the long-term economic outlook for Russia is not just a business cycle type recession but a lasting downward shift.
The global economic outlook at the moment seems rather bleak. According to the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) most recent World Economic Outlook, global growth is expected to slow from above 6 percent in 2021, to 3.2 percent this year, and 2.7 percent in 2023. For the US and the Euro area the corresponding numbers are slightly above a 5 percent growth in 2021, between 2 and 3 percent in 2022, while barely reaching 1 percent in 2023. At the same time inflation is up and central banks are trying to curb this by raising interest rates.
From an EU perspective it is an open question what proportion of the lower growth is caused by the economic consequences of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Certainly, energy prices are affected as well as issues relating to natural resources and agricultural products (though the consequences of shortages in these goods are far larger for Middle Eastern, North African and Sub-Saharan countries). But it is not the case that all of the economic problems in the EU are due to the changed economic relations with Russia.
In assessing the economic impact of Russia’s war, and in particular the impact of sanctions, it is important to focus on both expectations as well as proportions. A widespread narrative portrays Russia’s relative economic resilience (compared to the expectations of some in March/ April 2022) as the Russian economy being surprisingly unaffected, while the EU is depicted as being badly hit, especially by high energy prices. In a European context, the Swedish daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter claims that “experts are surprised over Russia’s resilience” and the Economist, a British weekly newspaper, recently portrayed recession prospects for Europe as “Russia climbs out”. We argue that such point of view is misleading. To get a more balanced image of what is unfolding it is important to think both about the expected consequences of sanctions, including how long some of them take to have an effect, but also (and maybe most important when thinking about the long run), what economic consequences are now unfolding beyond the impact of sanctions.
Sanctions Against Russia
Let us start with what sanctions are in place, what types of impact these have had so far and what can be expected in the future. There are three types of sanctions currently in place. First, and most impactful in the short run, are limitations on financial transactions, especially those imposed on the Central Bank. In this category there are also the restrictions on other Russian banks disconnecting them from a key part of the global payment system, SWIFT, as well as measures targeting other assets: divestments from funds, investment withdrawals, asset freezes, and other impediments to financial flows. The main short-term aim of these actions was to reduce the Russian government’s alternatives to finance the army and their military operations. Second there are sanctions on trade in goods and services. At the moment these target particularly technology imports and energy and metals exports. These take a longer time to be felt and are potentially more costly to the sanctioning countries as well. They also contribute, in principle, to reduced resources for war. Besides affecting the government’s budget, both financial and trade sanctions disturb ordinary people’s lives as well and might create discontent and protests. A third group of sanctions are so-called sanctions of inconvenience such as limitations to air traffic, closure of air space, exclusion form sport and cultural events, restrictions of movement for both officials and tourists, and others, which aim at disconnecting the target country from the rest of the world. These are partly symbolic in nature, but can also impact popular opinion, including among the elites. However, a potential problem is that such sanctions can push opinion in either of two opposite directions: against the target regime in sympathy with the sanctioning parties; or against what is now perceived as an external enemy in a so-called rally-around-the-flag effect.
Along these dimensions the sanctions have so far had mixed effects in relation to the objectives listed above. We will return to this issue below, but in short, the sanctions on the Central Bank and the financial system, albeit powerful, fell short of causing anything like a collapse of the Russian financial system. Some of the trade restrictions, together with other global economic events, created an environment where lost trade volumes for Russia were compensated by price increases in resources and energy exports. When it comes to restrictions on imports of many high-tech components, these are certainly being felt in the Russian economy although still not fully. Public perceptions in Russia are hard to judge from the outside, especially given the problems of voiced opposition in the country, while public perceptions in sanctioning countries have mainly been favorable as people want to see that their governments are “doing something”.
What Do We Know About Sanctions in General?
A key question when judging whether sanctions “work” is to study what a reasonable benchmark can be. As discussed in a previous FREE Policy Brief (2012), sanctions don’t enjoy a reputation of being very effective. This is true both in the research literature as well as in the public opinion. There are reasons for this that have to do with both how “effectiveness” is intended and the limits that empirical enquiries necessarily face in trying to answer the question of effectiveness. This does not mean, however, that sanctions have no effect. Another FREE Policy Brief (2022) summarizes a selection of the most credible research in this area. In short, a majority of studies find that sanctions affect the population in target countries through shortages of various kind (food, clean water, medicine and healthcare), resulting in lower life expectancy and increased infant mortality. The types of effects are comparable to the consequences of a military conflict. In the cases where it has been possible to credibly quantify the damage to GDP, estimates are in the range of 2 to 4 percent of reduced annual growth over a fairly long period (10 years on average and up to 3 years after the lifting of sanctions). One has to keep in mind that lower growth rates compound over time, so that the total loss at the end of an average period is quite substantial. As a comparison, the latest estimate of the total loss in global GDP from the Covid-19 crisis stands at “just” -3.4 percent. Other studies find similarly significant negative effects on other economic outcomes such as employment rate, international trade, public expenditure, the value of the country’s currency, and inequality. There is of course variation in the effects depending on the type of sanctions and also on the structure of the target economy. Trade sanctions tend to have a negative effect both in the short and long run, while smart sanctions (i.e. sanctions targeting specific individuals or groups) may even have positive effects on the target country’s economy in the long run.
Sanctions and the Current State of the Russian Economy
When it comes to the Russian economy’s performance in these dire straits, the very bleak forecasts from spring 2022 have since been partly revised upwards. Some are surprised that the collective West has not been able to deliver a “knock-out blow” to the Russian economy. In light of what we know about sanctions in general this is perhaps not very surprising. Also, one can recall that even a totally isolated Soviet economy held up for quite some time. This however does not mean that sanctions are not working. There are several explanations for this. As already mentioned, some of the restrictions imply by their very nature some time delay; large countries normally have stocks and reserves of many goods – and on top of this Mr. Putin had been preparing for a while. Also, the undecisive and delayed management of energy trade from the EU reduced the effectiveness of other measures, in particular the impact of financial restrictions. Continued trade in the most valuable resources for the Russian government together with spikes in prices (partly due to the fact that the embargo was announced several months ahead of the intended implementation) flooded the Russian state coffers. This effect was also enlarged by the domestic tax cuts on gasoline prices in many European countries in response to a higher oil price (Gars, Spiro and Wachtmeister, 2022). This is soon coming to an end, but at the moment Russia enjoys the world’s second largest current account surplus.
The phenomenal adaptability of the global economy is also playing in Russia’s favor: banned from Western markets, Russia is finding new suppliers for at least some imports. However, although they are dampening and slowing the blow at the moment, it is difficult to envision how these countries can be substitutes for Western trade partners for many years to come.
The Russian Economy Beyond Sanctions
Given all of this, the impact on the Russian economy is not nearly as small as some commentators claim. Starting with GDP, an earlier FREE Policy Brief (2016) shows how surprisingly well Russia’s GDP growth can be explained by changes in international oil prices. This is true for the most recent period as well, up until the turn of the year 2021-2022 and the start of hostilities, as shown in Figure 1. Besides the clear seasonal pattern, Russian GDP (in Rubles) closely follows the BRENT oil price. This simple model, which performs very well in explaining the GDP series historically, generates a predicted development as shown by the red dotted line. Comparing this with the figures provided by the Russian Federal State Statistics Service, Rosstat, for the first two quarters of 2022 (which might in themselves be exaggeratedly positive) indicates a loss by at least 8 percent in the first and further 9 percent in the second quarter. In other words, GDP predicted by this admittedly simple model would have been 19 percent higher than what reported by Rosstat in the first half of 2022. As a comparison, Saudi Arabia – another highly oil dependent country – saw its fastest growth in a decade during the second quarter, up by almost 12 percent.
Figure 1. Russian GDP against predictions
Other indicators point in the same direction. According to a report published by researchers at Yale University in July this year, Russian imports, on which all sectors and industries in the economy are dependent, fell by no less than ~50 percent; consumer spending and retail sales both plunged by at least ~20 percent; sales of foreign cars – an important indicator of business cycle – plummeted by 95 percent. Further, domestic production levels show no trace of the effort towards import substitution, a key ingredient in Mr. Putin’s proposed “solution” to the sanctions problem.
Longer Term Trends
There are many reasons to be concerned with the short run impact from sanctions on the Russian economy. Internally in Russia it matters for the public opinion, especially in parts that do not have access to reports about what goes on in the war. Economic growth has always been important for Putin’s popularity during peace time (Becker, 2019a). In Europe it matters mainly because a key objective is to make financing the war as difficult as possible, but also to ensure public support for Ukraine. A perception among Europeans that the Russian economy is doing fine despite sanctions is likely to decrease the support for these measures. However, the more important economic consequences for Russia are the long-run effects. Many large multinational firms have left and started to divest from the country. There has always been a risk premium attached to doing business in Russia, which showed up particularly in terms of reduced investment after the annexation of Crimea in 2014 (Becker, 2019b). But for a long time hopes of a gradual shift and a large market potential kept companies involved in Russia (in some time periods more, in others less). This has however ended for the foreseeable future. Many of the large companies that have left the Russian market are unlikely to return even in the medium term, regardless of what happens to sanctions. Similarly, investments into Russia have been seen as a crucial determinant of its growth and wellbeing (Becker and Olofsgård, 2017), and now this momentum is completely lost.
Energy relations have been Russia’s main leverage against the EU although warnings about this dependency have been raised for a long time. In this relationship, there has also been a hope that Russia would feel a mutual dependence and that over time it would shift its less desirable political course. With the events over the past year, this balancing act has decidedly come to an end, if not permanent, at least for many years to come. The EU will do its utmost not to rely on Russian energy in the future, and regardless of what path it chooses – LNG, more nuclear power, more electricity storage, etc. – the path forward will be to move away from Russia. Of course, there are other markets – approximately 40 percent of global GDP lies outside of the sanctioning countries – so clearly there are alternatives both for selling resources and establishing new trade relationships. However, this will in many cases take a lot of time and require very large infrastructure investments. And perhaps more important, for the most (to Russia) valuable imports in the high-tech sector it will take a very long time before other countries can replace the firms that have now pulled out.
Yet another factor that will have long-term consequences is that many of these aspects are understood by large parts of the Russian population, and those with good prospects in the West have already left or are trying to do so. It has been a long-term goal for those wanting to reform the Russian economy, at least in the past 20 years, to attract and put to fruition the high potential that have been available in terms of human capital and scientific knowledge. However, these attempts have not succeeded and the recent developments have put a permanent end to those dreams.
In the latest IMF forecast, countries in the Euro area will grow by 3.1 percent this year and only 0.5 percent in 2023. In January the corresponding numbers stood at 3.9 percent and 2.5 percent. This drop, caused in large part by the altered relations with Russia, is certainly non negligible, and especially painful coming on the heels of the Covid-19 crisis. However, it is an order of magnitude smaller than the “missed growth” Russia is experiencing. When judging the impact from sanctions on the Russian economy overall, the correct (and historically consistent) counterfactual displays a sizable GDP growth driven by very high energy and commodity prices. Relative to such counterfactual, the sanctions effect is already very noticeable. In the coming months, economic activity will slow down and many European household will feel the consequences. In this climate it will be important that, when assessing the situation with Russia perhaps performing better than expected, the following is kept in mind. Firstly, Russia is still doing much worse compared to the EU as well as to other oil-producing countries. Secondly, and even more important, what matters are the longer run prospects. And these are certainly even worse for the Russian economy.
- Becker, T. (2019a). Economic growth and Putin’s Approval Ratings – The Return of the Fridge https://freepolicybriefs.org/2019/02/25/economic-growth-and-putins-approval-ratings-the-return-of-the-fridge/ FREE Policy Brief
- Becker, T. (2019b). Russia’s Real Cost of Crimean Uncertainty https://freepolicybriefs.org/2019/06/10/russias-real-cost-of-crimean-uncertainty/FREE Policy Brief
- Becker, T. and Olofsgård, A. (2017). From abnormal to normal – Two tales of growth from 25 years of transition, SITE Working paper 43, September.
- Becker, T. (2016). Russia and Oil – Out of Control https://freepolicybriefs.org/2016/10/31/russia-oil-control FREE Policy Brief
- Gars, J., Spiro, D. and Wachtmeister, H. (2022). The effect of European fuel-tax cuts on the oil income of Russia. Nat Energy 7, pp. 989-997 https://www.nature.com/articles/s41560-022-01122-6
- Perotta Berlin, M. (2022). The Effect of Sanctions https://freepolicybriefs.org/2022/05/10/effects-economic-sanctions/ FREE Policy Brief
- Perotta Berlin, M. (2012). Do Economic Sanctions Work? https://freepolicybriefs.org/2012/03/19/do-economic-sanctions-work/ FREE Policy Brief
- Sonnenfeld, J., Tian, S., Sokolowski, F., Wyrebkowski, M. and Kasprowicz, M. (2022). Business Retreats and Sanctions Are Crippling the Russian Economy. http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4167193
With sanctions becoming an increasingly important tool in ostracising autocratic regimes from western markets, the need for effective enforcement of Anti-Money Laundering (AML) policies is increasing. The global AML regime will be the backbone in detecting evasion of sanctions. This regime has, however, been widely criticised as ineffective. In this brief, we discuss issues with the current AML regime and propose a reward scheme for whistleblowers to enable asset seizures. A powerful feature of our proposal is that it does not rely on the effectiveness of the AML regime.
Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we wrote a FREE Policy brief expressing concerns over the ability of the current Anti Money Laundering (AML) regime to keep money launderers out of the international financial system. In the brief, we concluded that “The ease with which criminals have evaded present detection methods should cause concern about the effectiveness of sanctions”. The issue has now received renewed attention as the current sanctions against Russia will only be effective if it is difficult or costly to circumvent them. Sanctions evasions have a lot of similarities with money laundering, and the methods for detecting both is very similar, such that the proposal we discuss in this brief is applicable to both.
While an initial shock due to unexpected sanctions may generate disruptions, prohibited goods can later be imported/exported through third-party intermediaries in non-sanctioned countries to circumvent the sanctions. False labelling of origin, misinvocing, etc., are likely to occur and may be very difficult to detect. Analogously, sanctioned individuals’ assets may shift hands, and be laundered through shell companies without known beneficial owners.
In this brief, we consider a way to enhance enforcement, as outlined in a recent paper (Nyreröd, Andreadakis, and Spagnolo, 2022). The approach builds upon the US Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Rewards Program which offers up to $5 million “for information leading to seizure, restraint, or forfeiture of assets linked to foreign government corruption” (US Treasury, 2022).
The AML Regime
To justify the enforcement mechanism we later propose, some background on the AML regime is necessary. The global standard-setter for AML is the Financial Action Taskforce (FATF), which has since 1989 issued recommendations to countries on how to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. While initially focusing on drug money, the regime expanded in the last decades and has now received increased attention as it will be an important tool in ensuring sanctions against Russian oligarchs are effective.
The regime imposes numerous obligations on financial and other entities as they must assess risks and conduct due diligence along various dimensions, collect documents, and send reports to the national Financial Intelligence Unit. This regime has been widely criticized. Widespread AML non-compliance within banks, lack of rigorous supervision and enforcement by national supervisors and high costs relative to verifiable benefits are some of the issues that have been identified (Spagnolo and Nyreröd 2021; Nyreröd, Andreadakis and Spagnolo, 2022). The World Bank estimates that between 2 and 5 percent of global GDP is laundered annually, and that only around 0.2 percent of the proceeds from crime, laundered via the financial system, are seized and frozen (UNODC, 2011). Researchers have also been critical – for example Pol (2020), cites 22 papers that have “identified gaps between the intentions and results of the modern anti-money laundering effort, including its core capacity to detect and prevent serious profit-motivated crime and terrorism” (p.103).
Recent responses by the European Commission and others have focused on ensuring compliance within covered entities. Yet, increasing compliance with current AML rules may be costly and non-sufficient to stem the flows of illicit money in the international system. Even if widespread compliance within covered entities is obtained, and the AML procedures are effective, this may not be enough – even minimal non-compliance rates may result in major damages. We have seen how Danske Bank Estonia, a relatively small branch, managed to transfer around $230 billions of suspicious funds within the span of a couple of years (Bruun and Hjejle, 2018).
Some have suggested providing whistleblower rewards to those who report significant violations of AML rules by covered institutions (Spagnolo and Nyreröd, 2021; Scarcella, 2021). Yet, such rewards are only desirable if the AML regime is effective in achieving its policy objectives, which is not a given (we elaborate on this in Nyreröd, Andreadakis and Spagnolo, 2022). Enhanced compliance with the AML regime does not necessarily entail increased detection and deterrence of e.g., money laundering. Numerous laundering methods exist that circumvent the reporting rules required under AML. A better option may be to incentivize facilitators of money laundering to provide information leading directly to asset seizures, as they have the best information that can lead to such forfeitures.
Money laundering is a derivative crime and requires what is called a “predicate offense” (such as human trafficking, drug sales, or corruption) that generates illegal money whose source needs to be obscured. The EU Directive (2018/1673) stipulates 22 categories of criminal activities that constitute predicate offenses.
There is a large infrastructure facilitating money laundering including financial advisers, real estate agents, tax advisors, and lawyers – crucial to criminals seeking to launder money. Bill Browder, famous for his work on advocating the Magnitsky Act, describes how he was aided by Alexander Perepilichnyy, a financial adviser for individuals involved in a large tax theft in Russia. Perepilichnyy helped launder the money for those involved in the tax theft, but eventually turned whistleblower when he provided bank statements to Browder that led to the freezing of $11 million related to this fraud (Browder 2022, p. 39). His information provided a “road-map” to even be able to start investigating where the illegally stolen assets had ended up. Perepilichnyy later died while jogging near London in 2012, which some believe was a murder in retaliation for blowing the whistle. A reward scheme would aim at people like Perepilichnyy, persons who are unrelated to the predicate offense, yet have information on the source and location of illicit funds.
Reward Programs in AML
The US has used whistleblower reward schemes in several regulatory areas including tax, procurement fraud, and securities fraud. These programs offer 10-30 percent of the recoveries or fines to whistleblowers that bring information crucial to issue the fines or recover public funds. Rewards to whistleblowers are therefore paid by the wrongdoing party, not the taxpayer.
These programs have received increased attention as several studies have found that they are effective at uncovering and deterring wrongdoing (Dyck, 2010; Wiedman and Zhu, 2018; Raleigh, 2020; Leder-Luis, 2020; Dey et al., 2021; Berger and Lee, 2022, see Nyreröd and Spagnolo, 2021 for a review). Agencies managing these programs have widely praised them, and studies show they are highly cost effective. More countries are also starting to experiment with offering rewards for information.
A salient feature of the US programs is that some degree of culpability in the wrongdoing does not disqualify an individual from an award. In 2012, Bradley Birkenfeld received $104 million under the Internal Revenue Service’s reward program despite serving a jail sentence for his involvement in facilitating tax evasion. In fact, when one of the most effective and famous whistleblower laws was enacted, the US Senator who tabled the bill argued that the bill aimed at “setting a rogue to catch a rogue” which “is the safest and most expeditious way I have ever discovered of bringing rogues to justice” (Howard, 1863).
Motivated by these experiences, we propose that AML should incorporate a whistleblower reward scheme, targeting those facilitating money laundry, with three central pillars:
Witness protection: aim at shielding whistleblowers and their families from negative consequences, if there are concerns that they might become victims of retaliation, harassment, or mistreatment of any kind. If the whistleblower is based in a hostile country, guaranteed asylum should be granted.
Leniency: offer immunity for any reported offense related to money laundering, but not for any other crime. Without immunity, a whistleblower will have no incentive to turn to authorities as they would immediately incriminate themselves and risk jailtime for money laundering.
Large, scaling, and mandatory rewards: offer large, mandatory rewards that scale with the level of recoveries. As noted above, successful US programs pay 10-30 percent of the recoveries to whistleblowers. In the money laundering case, this percentage range may be lowered. Also, similarly to whistleblowers’ rewards in other cases, AML rewards would come from confiscated funds.
Numerous other design dimensions are important, but due to space limitations we refer the reader to other lengthier pieces that go into further detail (Nyreröd, Andreadakis and Spagnolo, 2022; Spagnolo and Nyreröd, 2021; Nyreröd and Spagnolo, 2021; Engstrom 2018).
The Russian aggression against Ukraine and the subsequent sanctions have put increased emphasis on the ability and effectiveness of the current AML regime to detect money laundering. Justified concerns about this regime have been raised, and its performance record is still under question. Programs offering whistleblowers witness protection, leniency, and large rewards could be an effective complement to this regime.
- Berger, P. and Lee, H. (2022), “Did the Dodd-Frank Whistleblower Provision Deter Accounting Fraud?”, Journal of Accounting Research, early view, available at: https://doi.org/10.1111/1475-679X.12421
- Browder, B. (2022b). Freezing Order, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY.
- Bruun and Hjejle. (2018). “Report on the Non-Resident Portfolio at Danske Bank’s Estonian Branch”. Danske Bank.
- Dey, A., Heese, J. and G. Pérez-Cavazos. (2021). “Cash-for-Information Whistleblower Programs: Effects on Whistleblowing and Consequences for Whistleblowers”, Journal of Accounting Research, Vol. 59, No.5, pp.1689-1740.
- Dyck, A., Morse, A. and Zingales, L. (2010). “Who Blows the Whistle on Corporate Fraud?”, The Journal of Finance, Vol. 65, No.6, pp.2213-2253.
- Engstrom, D. (2018). “Bounty Regimes.” In Arlen, J. (ed.) Research Handbook on Corporate Crime and Financial Misdealing, Edward Elgar.
- Howard, J.M. (1863). Congressional Globe, Senate, 37th Congress, 3rd Session, pp. 955-956.
- Leder-Luis, J. (2020). “Whistleblowers, Private Enforcement, and Medicare Fraud”, Working Paper, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, available at: https://sites.bu.edu/jetson/files/2020/07/False-Claims-Act-Paper.pdf.
- Nyreröd, T. and Spagnolo, G. (2021). “Myths and numbers on whistleblower rewards”, Regulation and Governance, Vol. 15, No.1, pp.82-97.
- Nyreröd, T., Andreadakis, S. and Spagnolo, G. (2022). “Money laundering and sanctions enforcement: large rewards, leniency, and witness protection for whistleblowers”, The Journal of Money Laundering Control, early view available at: https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/JMLC-05-2022-0068/full/html
- Pol, R. (2020). “Responses to money laundering scandal: evidence-informed or perception-driven?”, Journal of Money Laundering Control, Vol.23, No.1, pp.103-121.
- Raleigh, J. (2020). “The Deterrent Effect of Whistleblowing on Insider Trading”, University of Minnesota Working Paper, available at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3672026.
- Scarcella, G. (2021). “Qui Tam and the Bank Secrecy Act: A Public-Private Enforcement Model to Improve Anti-Money Laundering Efforts”, Fordham Law Review, Vol. 90, No.3, pp.1359- 1395.
- Spagnolo, G. and Nyreröd, T. (2021). “Financial Incentives to whistleblowers: a short survey”, Sokol, D. and van Rooij, B. (Ed.), Cambridge Handbook of Compliance, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge UK, pp.341-351.
- Spagnolo, G. and Nyreröd, T. (2021a). “Money Laundering and Whistleblowers”, report written for Centre for Business and Policy Studies (SNS), available at: https://snsse.cdn.triggerfish.cloud/uploads/2021/11/money-laundering-and-whistleblowers.pdf.
- UNODC. (2011). “Estimating Illicit Financial Flows Resulting from Drug Trafficking and Other Transnational Organized Crimes”, Research Report, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, available at: https://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/Studies/Illicit-financial-flows_31Aug11.pdf.
- US Treasury. (2022). “U.S. Departments of Treasury and Justice Launch Multilateral Russian Oligarch Task Force”, March 16, available at: https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/jy0659.
- Wiedman, C. and Zhu, C. (2018). “Do the SEC Whistleblower Provisions of Dodd-Frank Deter Aggressive Financial Reporting?”, 2018 Canadian Academic Accounting Association Annual Conference, available at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3105521.
More than thirty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Europe is struck with war following the Russian aggression on Ukraine. Russia’s war on Ukraine entails lost human capital, both in actual lives lost and due to major disruptions to key functions of the society, such as education and research. In light of this, the FREE Network, together with the Centre for Economic Analysis (CenEA) and the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE), hosted the public conference “Higher Education and Research in War and Peace“ in Warsaw on the 10th of September 2022. This policy brief is based on the presentations and panel discussions held during the conference.
The large-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine has disrupted an entire society, including the education system, with Ukrainian schools just recently partially welcoming back students to the classrooms for the first time since the 25th of February 2022. Closing schools has severe impacts on a population, as highlighted by the recent Covid-19 pandemic. The lockdown and closure of schools around the world following the virus have had and will continue to have massively negative consequences globally, with severe losses in human capital due to lost years of education. This is especially in countries where access to online education is limited or of poor quality. Inequalities also rise following the closure of schools and girls return to school in fewer numbers than their male counterparts. The disruption to the Ukrainian education system will result in lost human capital and lowered levels of knowledge among the population. The war has further restricted access to relevant information for many Ukrainians but also for Russians, making people susceptible to the increased Russian propaganda and misinformation about the war on Ukraine depicted within and outside of Russia.
In light of this, the FREE Network gathered representatives from its affiliated institutions and other relevant actors in the region to discuss the relevance and necessity of continued support for higher education and research within social sciences in Ukraine, and more broadly in Eastern Europe and post-Soviet countries. The conference and the overarching theme related back not only to the original ambition of the FREE Network, namely to support outstanding academia within economics and relate it to policy work but also to the current situation in Europe and the existing threat from Russia to this objective.
This brief will initially cover the work carried out by the Kyiv School of Economics (KSE) in response to the Russian aggression, followed by thoughts on Russia’s role in the evolution of knowledge and human capital in the region. The brief continues by covering the benefits and positive outcomes of investments into education and research and lastly concludes with reflections on the role of the FREE Network.
The Kyiv School of Economics’ Response to the Russian Aggression
The war on Ukraine put the spotlight on the importance of high-quality academic institutions as a safety net for the government to maintain vital functions to society. The Vice President for Policy Research at KSE, Nataliia Shapoval, gave a brief overview of how KSE’s work has changed since the Russian war on Ukraine and its implications. Shapoval initially painted a picture of the disruption to the Ukrainian society caused by the Russian aggression, explaining how KSE stepped up during the first months of the war, in some areas doing the work of ministries. While the government has mainly taken back some duties, the KSE is still providing policy advice in areas related to the effects of sanctions, estimates of damages, and food security among others. KSE is also highly active within the areas of education and health, working with Ukrainian schools through the KSE Charitable Foundation (KSE CF) to ensure students can safely return to the classrooms.
Another important aspect of the work carried out by KSE concerns spreading knowledge about and shedding light on the situation in Ukraine. Through the various networks, by talking to colleagues within academia but also to the media, KSE is trying to explain what has happened and is still happening in Ukraine. According to Shapoval, there is a need for delivering correct information and to keep attention fixed on the situation in Ukraine such that people are kept aware of what is going on in the region.
Shapoval also regularly returned to the role of education and research for the present and future Ukraine. According to Shapoval, avoiding brain drain and ensuring Ukrainians are equipped with the necessary knowledge is key to rebuilding a future Ukraine founded on well-functioning democratic institutions. To facilitate this, the KSE is offering two programs, Memory and Conflict Studies (a multidisciplinary field concerned with how the past can be understood and remembered, and how it might impact the present transformation of societies) and Urban Studies, both aimed at covering the future need for competence within these fields. Further mentioned by Shapoval is the fact that, due to the war, many Ukrainians have left the country and are being educated elsewhere. While this partially ensures intellectual human capital is not lost, these students must be kept anchored to Ukraine through networks to ensure they will return back to help rebuild Ukraine. This is especially important in order to counter the ongoing evolution in Russia.
Thoughts on the Role of Russia in the Region
While the recent developments in Ukraine have of course disrupted education and research in more severe and tangible ways, the situation for independent researchers in Russia has also deteriorated. Torbjörn Becker, Director of SITE, emphasized how several Russian colleagues in exile still collaborate with the FREE Network on policy work and research. Becker also further stressed how they will be paramount once Ukraine wins the war, as will the role of partnerships for a future transformation of the Russian society. Acknowledging that there are many Russians (especially amongst academics in exile) who oppose the war, Shapoval however stressed the disturbing fact that many Russians do seem to support the Russian aggression and that the role of Russia as a destructive force in the region cannot be understated. This was seconded by Tamara Sulukhia, Director of the International School of Economics at Tbilisi State University (ISET). Sulukhia argued that Russian politics slow down and disturbs the free states within the region, and hampers organizations and countries from moving in the right direction in regard to democracy, economic evolution and integration toward Europe. Both Shapoval and Sulukhia reminded the audience that even with a Ukrainian victory, and this in a war which is defining the future of democracy in the region, Russia will persist. Russia has proven time and again, by effectively occupying 23 percent of Georgia as of 2008, with the occupation of Crimea in 2014 and with the most recent war on Ukraine, to be a real military threat to post-Soviet countries. Even though Russia losing the war would shift the power dynamics in the region, the ever-present threat of Russia is not only of a military character. Russia also attempts to impact education, research and knowledge more generally by promoting a Soviet-style education and by altering reality through propaganda and false information.
While discussing the current situation of higher education within economics in Belarus, Dzmitry Kruk, Deputy Academic Director of the Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Center (BEROC), regularly came back to the negative impacts from Russia on the quality of education and research. Where the western style education is free but also differential, Soviet-style education is centred around learning how to fulfil instructions, according to Kruk. The Belarusian educational system is anchored to Russia and as a result Belarusians today have what Kruk referred to as a “spoilt mental map”. The necessity of free education and research outside the Russian alternative (which is mainly published in Russian and with a post-Marxist view of the world) is vital in order to equip people with the tools to respond to the new types of dictatorship evident in the region. Young people within academia who have experienced freedom and have had the opportunity of thinking for themselves will also be vital on the future path toward democracy. Kruk’s opinions were furthered by Shapoval stating how education must and should counter the risk of brainwashing in the region and in the world as a whole. Shapoval argued the necessity of countering propaganda with the help not only of education but also the legislation of media and social media and enforcement of international laws in general. The necessity of ensuring new values for intellectuals and students in times to come is of paramount value and, according to Shapoval, as important to halting the Russian imperialist visions today as it was some thirty years ago. Shapoval further argued that the threat from Russia’s ambitions should be met not only with education and research but also through installing a sense of hope and prosperity among young people.
Investments into Education and Research as a Safeguard and Development Driver
While countries within the turbulent region differ, not least in regard to overall political ambitions and structure, in most of them investments into education and research have been paying off. KSE’s expertise allowed it to work closely with the Ukrainian government, standing strong in their fight against Russia. The impact from investments into education and research in the region is also evident in both Georgia and Latvia.
Sulukhia argued ISET to be, and to have been, a key contributor to human capital among Georgians as well as others in the Caucasus region. Sulukhia argued this to be especially important when under occupation, mentioning how Georgia has, since the occupation of the two regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in all ways possible tried to ensure that the human capital of internally displaced people is not lost. ISET have ten folded its intake of students and is today providing world-class education in the Georgian language, effectively counteracting brain drain. Post-graduates are working in major institutions providing relevant knowledge and competence in key areas of not only the Georgian society but also other countries in the Caucasus. A similar picture was painted by Anders Paalzow, Rector at Stockholm School of Economics in Riga (SSE Riga). Paalzow specifically pointed out how the investments in education made in Latvia in the 1990s have truly paid off, with graduates having been absorbed into relevant parts of the Latvian society and the Baltics for decades.
Having previous students in key positions in society to ensure sound policy work (such as good fiscal and audit control of the countries in question etc.) is however not the only benefit of investing in education and research within the region. As emphasized by Sulukhia, institutes within the FREE Network and other networks alike are strategically vital in the sense that they ensure knowledge and evidence for policy makers and as they convey evidence-based messages for the general public. This is especially important in a time when the message of the developmental direction for the countries within the region has to be reinforced in order to stand against Russian misinformation and propaganda as well as voices questioning the benefits of European integration. Sulukhia emphasized how it is of importance that the relevance of education and research is rooted among the people and not only within academia to evade the risk of preaching to the choir. Vlad Mykhnenko, Fellow at St. Peter’s College at the University of Oxford, further argued it is necessary for academia to be much more policy oriented than what is the reality today. Researchers should comment on political events and public policy to ensure the outreach of knowledge and information, not just to help the public have a greater understanding of complex issues but also to help inform experts. According to Myhnenko, other researchers are keen on getting context-relevant knowledge and insights from economists working within the region.
The necessity of communicating the outcomes from investments within economics education and research and more broadly within social sciences was a recurring theme during the conference. Presenting the University’s engagement in various programs such as Erasmus+, Horizon Europe, The European Strategy for Universities etc., Professor Agnieszka Chłoń-Domińczak from the Warsaw School of Economics (WSE) outlined the importance of funding from the EU. Chłoń-Domińczak highlighted how EU support has enabled greater partnerships and internationalization and pointed out that while the transfer of knowledge and internationalization of students and researchers are of the essence, there is a need for also ensuring capacity building among other staff when building sound institutions. Internationalization through the exchange as a hedge against brain drain and as a means of improving the quality of academia was further emphasized by Michal Myck, Director of CenEA.
Chłoń-Domińczak, alongside Paalzow and the Swedish Ambassador to Poland, Stefan Gullgren, further argued the necessity to bridge between business and academia. This, especially as investments in social sciences, as compared to investments in natural sciences or technology cannot be commercialized. Additionally, the former havs payoffs in the long run which lowers investment incentives for firms making it even more crucial to communicate the large benefits to society of investments into the sphere. Ensuring consistent and continued support requires not only a good connection to businesses but also proper legal structures in place. As argued by Gullgren, the Swedish model with private businesses funding about 70 percent of research and education in Sweden, is made possible largely thanks to the fact that many investments are funnelled through foundations that are exempt from taxation when set up to finance research grants and education. Thus, one should consider not only business, academia and investors when thinking about future funding for research and education, but the legislative framework as well, especially in contexts such as the future rebuild of Ukraine.
As for how the benefits from investments into social sciences best are communicated, opinions shifted among participants throughout the day. On the one hand, Becker’s argument of being visible not only in traditional media but on social media alike was met by Shapoval, highlighting the need for a regulatory framework for both platforms. On the other hand, Myhnenko’s argument for more policy oriented and outreaching research was met by Kruk claiming there is a risk of researchers within economics deviating too far from research within the field. Kruk also addressed the argument of being available on social media by countering that in his view, researchers should refrain from work based on what generates clicks or reads.
The Relevance of the FREE Network in times of War
Considering the evidence brought forth during the conference by colleagues within the FREE Network, be it the suppression of BEROC in their efforts of founding a School of Economics in Belarus, the effects on the KSE from the war on Ukraine, or the rise of anti-European expressions in Georgia, the necessity of the network was at the end of the day perhaps clearer than ever. As highlighted by virtually all speakers during the conference, internationalization through networks such as the FREE Network fosters open minds, allows for improvements within all aspects of academia, and enables the exchange of thoughts, ideas and experiences. Although the heterogeneity of the region should not be overlooked and investments made in accordance with this, the similarities between the countries within the FREE Network outnumber the differences. The immediate threat from Russia must be met with knowledge and fact-based information as well as high-quality education and research being made available among the population in the region as a whole. To ensure a continued transition within the region, the risk of brain drain must be evaded through continuous support to the social sciences, as these have the power to truly transform nations.
The FREE Network public conference in Warsaw was the first in-person conference since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. The benefits of meeting in person were however overshadowed by the ongoing Russian aggression on Ukraine and ultimately on democratic ideals, including those of independent academia. We hope to welcome all FREE Network institutes to next year’s conference in Kyiv, to further discuss how outstanding education and research can help rebuild a sovereign Ukraine.
List of Participants
- Torbjörn Becker, Director of SITE
- Agnieszka Chłoń-Domińczak, Professor at WSE
- Stefan Gullgren, Swedish Ambassador to Poland
- Dzmitry Kruk, Deputy Academic Director, BEROC
- Michal Myck, Director of CenEA
- Vlad Mykhnenko, Fellow, St. Peter’s College, University of Oxford
- Anders Paalzow, Rector SSE Riga
- Nataliia Shapoval, Vice President for Policy Research at KSE
- Tamara Sulukhia, Director of ISET
Sanctions imposed on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine are argued to be the strongest and farthest-reaching imposed on a major power after WWII, more numerous and more comprehensive than all other measures currently in force against all other sanctioned countries. A question often asked, which is hard to answer, is whether sanctions are effective. In the present case, the effect most associate with success would be a swift end of the hostilities, perhaps accompanied by a regime change in Russia. But even when it seems these prizes are out of reach, sanctions certainly have effects, all too often glossed over by the debate but nonetheless of significance.
Why Are Sanctions Seen as Ineffective?
Sanctions are restrictions imposed on a country by one or more other countries with the intent to pressure in effect some desirable outcome, or conversely to condemn and punish some undesired action already taken. When evaluating sanctions, therefore, the focus is naturally on whether they succeed to discourage this particular course of action, or to remove the decision-makers responsible for it. And on this account, sanctions are overwhelmingly seen as unsuccessful. However, a few complications cloud this conclusion.
First of all, sanctions that are implemented already failed at the threat stage. If the threat of a well-specified and credible retribution did not deter the receiving part from pursuing the sanctioned course of action, it is because they reckoned that they can afford to ignore it. So, unless this punishment goes beyond what was expected, in scope or in time, its implementation will also fall flat. This implies that any effort to evaluate sanctions retrospectively suffers from the negative selection problem, when almost exclusively cases of failure, intended in this particular sense, are observed.
Second, sanctions are a rather blunt instrument, that often cannot be targeted with the precision one would desire. Even though sanctions have over time become “smarter”, in the sense that stronger efforts are made to target the regime, or elites that may have the clout to actually affect the regime (think the oligarchs in Russia), they often fail to reach or affect in a meaningful way those individuals that are the real objective, for various reasons. Instead, they can cause significant “collateral damage”, to groups of a population that often are quite far removed from any real decisional power, including those in the sending countries, and even third parties who are extraneous to the situation. The damage inflicted to those parties can only in very special circumstances be part of a causal link eventually impacting the intended outcome. For instance, citizens struggling in an impoverished economy could be led to a riot, or in some other way put pressure on their government – but this implies that the country is sufficiently free for riots to take place or for voters’ opinions to be taken into consideration.
To this, it should be added that, once a course of action has been taken, it might be not obvious how to change or undo it, notwithstanding the signaled displeasure from the sanctioning parties. Sanctions are therefore rarely working in isolation. When positive outcomes are achieved, it is often the case that diplomatic channels were kept open and clear incentives offered for a way out. But then it might be unclear whether it was the sanctions or something else that led to the success.
Other Effects of Sanctions
The pitfalls highlighted above, which make it tricky to answer whether sanctions are effective at reaching their aim, also apply when studying other effects that sanctions might have. There is of course a range of outcomes that might be affected: in this literature we find studies looking at inequality (Afesorgbor et al., 2016), exchange rates (Dreger et al., 2016), trade (Afesorgbor, 2019; Crozet et al. 2020), the informal sector (Early et al, 2019), military spending (Farzanegan, 2019), women’s rights (Drury, 2014), and many more. But as it often happens the most studied outcome is GDP, as this is a measure that efficiently summarizes the whole economy and correlates very nicely with many other outcomes we care about.
Suppose then that we would like to investigate what is the effect of sanctions on a target country’s GDP. One problem is identifying an appropriate counterfactual; to observe what would have happened in the target country in the absence of sanctions. It is also an issue that the incidence of international sanctions is often a product of a series of events in the target or sender country (e.g. the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait or the apartheid system in South Africa), which also have impacts on the economy that would need to be isolated from the impact of sanctions themselves.
A variety of econometric techniques can be of help in this situation. One first idea is to use, as a reference, cases where sanctions were almost implemented. Gutmann et al. (2021) compare countries under sanctions to countries under threat of sanctions, while Neuenkirch and Neumeier (2015) contrast implemented sanctions to vetoed sanctions, in the context of UN decisions. Both studies find a relatively sizeable negative impact on GDP, in a large group of countries over a long period of time. In the first study, the target country’s GDP per capita decreases on average by 4 percent over the two first years after sanctions imposition and shows no signs of recovery in the three years after sanctions are removed. The second study estimates a reduction in GDP growth that starts at between 2,3 and 3,5 percent after the imposition of UN sanctions and, although it decreases over time, only becomes insignificant after ten years. It should be considered that a lower growth rate compounds over time: experiencing a slower growth even by only 1 percent over ten years implies a total loss of almost 15 percent. As a comparison, the average GDP loss due to the Covid-19 pandemic is estimated to be 3,4 percent in 2020.
These studies have limitations. Countries under threat of sanctions are probably making efforts to avoid punishment, which might imply that these countries are precisely the ones who would be most negatively affected by the sanctions. If so, the impact found by Gutmann et al. (2021) is probably underestimated. Neuenkirch and Neumeier (2015) only look at UN sanctions, which on one hand might give a larger impact because of the multilateral coordination. But on the other hand, the issue of an appropriate counterfactual emerges again: countries whose sanctions are vetoed might be larger, more influential, and better connected within the international community or to some of the major powers, which may also affect their economic success in other ways.
Kwon et al. (2020) adopt a different technique and come to a different conclusion. They use an instrumental variable (IV) approach and find that standard OLS overestimates the negative effect of sanctions, in other words, that sanctions’ effects are less negative than we think. They find an instantaneous effect on per capita GDP that becomes insignificant in the long run, just as if sanctions never happened.
Our confidence in these estimates hinges upon the validity of the IV used. In this case, the actual imposition of sanctions is replaced by its estimated likelihood based on sender countries’ variation in institutions and diplomatic policies (which are exogenous to the target country’s economic developments) and pre-determined country-pair characteristics (trade and financial flows, travels, colonial ties). Therefore, episodes where sanctions are imposed because the sender country happens to be in a period of hawkish foreign policy and because the target does not have strong historical relations with them are contrasted to episodes in which the opposite is true, and sanctions are therefore not implemented, everything else being equal.
The results also show that there is heterogeneity across types of sanctions, with trade sanctions having both a short and long run negative impact, while smart sanctions (i.e. sanctions targeted on particular individuals or groups) have positive effects on the target country’s economy in the long run. This is quite an important point in itself. Often, sweeping statements about effectiveness of “sanctions” lump all the different measures together, and fail to appreciate that there may be substantial differences. However, the effect of one or another type of sanctions will vary depending on the structure of the economy that is hit.
A third approach is the synthetic control method. Here the researcher tries to replicate as closely as possible the path of economic development in the target country up to the point of sanctions’ implementation, using one or a weighted average of several other countries. In this way, evolution after sanctions’ inception can be compared between the actual country and its synthetic control. Gharehgozli (2017) builds a replica of Iran based on a weighted combination of eight OPEC member countries, two non-OPEC oil-producing countries and three neighboring countries, that match a set of standard economic indicators for Iran over the period 1980-1994. The study finds that over the course of three years the imposition of US sanctions led to a 17.3 percent decline in Iran’s GDP, with the strongest reduction occurring in 2012, one year after the intensification of sanctions (2011-2014) was initiated.
This is a stronger effect than those presented earlier. However, it only speaks to the special case of Iran, rather than estimating a broader global average effect. Another study focusing on Iran (Torbat, 2005) makes the important point that the effect of sanctions varies by type: financial sanctions are found to be more effective (in lowering Iran’s GDP) than trade sanctions – which contrasts with what is found to be true on average by Kwon et al. (2020).
Finally, the relation between economic damage and the effectiveness of sanctions in terms of reaching their goals is debatable. In a theoretical model, Kaempfer et al. (1988) suggest that this relation might even be negative and that the most effective sanctions are not necessarily the most damaging in economic terms. The sanctions most likely to facilitate political change in the target country are those designed to cause income losses on groups benefiting from the target country’s policies, according to the authors.
The Effect of Sanctions on Russia
Are these results from previous studies useful to form expectations about the effects of the current sanctions on Russia? The invasion of Ukraine which started at the end of February was a relatively unexpected event, at least in character and scale, in contrast to what can be said in the majority of situations involving sanctions. However, the context leading up to it was not one of normality either. Besides the global pandemic, Russia was already under sanctions following the Crimean Crisis in 2014. The impact of those economic sanctions, and of the counter-sanctions imposed by Russia as retaliation, is still unclear – and will be in all probability completely dwarfed by the current sanction wave as well as other exogenous shocks, such as significant changes in oil prices in this period. Kholodilin et al. (2016) estimated the immediate loss of GDP in Russia to be 1,97 percent quarter-on-quarter, while no impact on the aggregate Euro Area countries’ GDP could be observed. A Russian study (Gurvich and Prilepsky, 2016) forecasted for the medium term a loss of 2,4 percentage points by 2017 as compared to the hypothetical scenario without sanctions. This pales in comparison to the magnitude of consequences that are being contemplated now. Even the potentially optimistic, or at least conservative, assessment of the current situation by the Russian Federation’s own Accounts Chamber, in the words of its head Alexei Kudrin, suggests that: “For almost one and a half to two years we will live in a very difficult situation.” At the end of April, they published revised forecasts on the economic situation, among which the one for GDP is shown below. Russian Central Bank chief Elvira Nabiullina also sounded bleak, speaking in the State Duma: “The period when the economy can live on reserves is finite. And already in the second – the beginning of the third quarter, we will enter a period of structural transformation and the search for new business models.” The World Bank has forecasted that Russia’s 2022 GDP output will fall by 11.2% due to Western sanctions. These numbers do not yet factor in the announcement of the sixth EU sanction package, which famously includes an oil embargo (see an earlier FREE Policy Brief on the dependency of Russia on oil export).
Figure 1. Revised forecasts of growth rates for the Russian economy
Are these estimates realistic, and what would have been the counterfactual development without sanctions? If we believe the studies reviewed in the previous section, and also taking into account the unprecedented scale and reach of the current sanctions, at least the time horizon, if not the size, of the consequences forecast by Russian authorities is, though substantial, certainly underestimated. But there is too much uncertainty at the moment, hostilities are still ongoing and sanctions are not being lifted for quite some time in any foreseeable scenario. One reason why these sanctions are not likely to be relaxed, and why their impact is expected to be more severe than in most cases, is that a very broad coalition of countries is backing them. Not only this but the sanctioning countries see Russia’s conduct as a potential threat to the existing world order, so their motivation to contrast it is particularly strong relative to, say, the cases of Iran, North Korea, or Burma.
Moreover, these loss estimates do not yet factor in the announcement of the sixth EU sanction package, which famously includes an oil embargo. Oil is a fundamental driver of growth in Russia. An earlier FREE Policy Brief shows how two-thirds of Russia’s growth can be explained by changes in international oil prices. This is not because oil constitutes such a large share of GDP but because of the secondary effect oil money generates in terms of domestic consumption and investment. Reducing export revenues from the sale of oil and gas will therefore have significant effects on Russia’s GDP, well beyond what the first-round effect of restricting the oil sector would imply.
In short, it is too early to venture an assessment in detail, however, the scale of loss that can be expected is clear from these and many other indicators. In the longer run, it will only be augmented by the relative isolation in which Russia has ended up, implying lower investments and subpar capital inputs at inflated prices, and by the ongoing brain drain (3,8 million people have already left the country since the war began).
In conclusion, the debate about economic sanctions as a tool of foreign policy is often restricted to a binary question: do they work or not? There is ample support in the literature studying sanctions to say that this question is too simplistic. Even if we do not see immediate success in reaching the main aim of the sanction policy, they do cause damage, in many dimensions, and such damage is non-negligible. The political will and the regime behind it may be unaffected, but the resources they need to continue with their course of action will unavoidably shrink in the longer run.
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The recent record-high gas prices have triggered legitimate concerns regarding the EU’s energy security, especially with dependence on natural gas from Russia. This brief discusses the historical and current risks associated with Russian gas imports. We argue that decreasing the reliance on Russian gas may not be feasible in the short-to-mid-run, especially with the EU’s goals of green transition and the electrification of the economy. To ensure the security of natural gas supply from Russia, the EU has to adopt the (long-proclaimed) coordinated energy policy strategy.
In the last six months, Europe has been hit by a natural gas crisis with a severe surge in prices. Politicians, industry representatives, and end-energy users voiced their discontent after a more than seven-fold price increase between May and December 2021 (see Figure 1). Even if gas prices somewhat stabilized this month (partly due to unusually warm weather), today, gas is four times as expensive as it was a year ago. This has already translated into an increase in electricity prices, and as a result, is also likely to have dramatic consequences for the cost and price of manufacturing goods.
Figure 1. Evolution of EU gas prices since Oct 2020.
These ever-high gas prices have triggered legitimate concerns regarding the security of gas supply to Europe, specifically, driven by the dependency on Russian gas imports. Around 90% of EU natural gas is imported from outside the EU, and Russia is the largest supplier. In 2020, Russia provided nearly 44% of all EU gas imports, more than twice the second-largest supplier, Norway (19.9%, see Eurostat). The concern about Russian gas dependency was exacerbated by the new underwater gas route project connecting Russia and the EU – Nord Stream 2. The opponents to this new route argued that it will not only increase the EU’s gas dependency but also Russia’s political influence in the EU and its bargaining power against Ukraine (see, e.g., FT). Former President of the European Council Donald Tusk stated that “from the perspective of EU interests, Nord Stream 2 is a bad project.”.
However, neither dependency nor controversial gas route projects are a new phenomenon, and the EU has implemented some measures to tackle these issues in the past. This brief looks at the current security of Russian gas supply through the lens of these historical developments. We provide a snapshot of the risks associated with Russian gas imports faced by the EU a decade ago. We then discuss whether different factors affecting the EU gas supply security have changed since (and to which extent it may have contributed to the current situation) and if decreasing dependence on Russian gas is feasible and cost-effective. We conclude by addressing the policy implications.
Security of Russian Gas Supply to the EU, an Old Problem Difficult to Tackle
Russia has been the main gas provider to the EU for a few decades, and for a while, this dependency has triggered concerns about gas supply security (see, e.g., Stern, 2002 or Lewis, New York Times, 1982). However, the problem with the security of Russian gas supplies was extending beyond the dependency on Russian gas per se. It was driven by a range of risk factors such as insufficient diversification of gas suppliers, low fungibility of natural gas supplies with a prevalence of pipeline gas delivery, or use of gas exports/transit as means to solve geopolitical problems.
This last point became especially prominent in the mid-to-late-2000s, during the “gas wars” between Russia and the gas transit countries Ukraine and Belarus. These wars led to shortages and even a complete halt of Russian gas delivery to some EU countries, showing how weak the security of the Russian gas supply to the EU was at that time.
Reacting to these “gas wars”, the EU attempted to tackle the issue with a revival of the “common energy policy” based on the “solidarity” and “speaking in one voice” principles. The EU wanted to adopt a “coherent approach in the energy relations with third countries and an internal coordination so that the EU and its Member States act together” (see, e.g., EC, 2011). However, this idea turned out to be challenging to implement, primarily because of one crucial contributor to the problem with the security of Russian gas supply – the sizable disbalance in Russian gas supply risk among the individual EU Member States.
Indeed, EU Member States had a different share of natural gas in their total energy consumption, highly uneven diversification of gas suppliers, and varying exposure to Russian gas. Several Eastern-European EU states (such as Bulgaria, Estonia, or Czech Republic) were importing their gas almost entirely from Russia; other EU Member States (such as Germany, Italy, or Belgium) had a diversified gas import portfolio; and a few EU states (e.g., Spain or Portugal) were not consuming any Russian gas at all. Russian natural gas was delivered via several routes (see Figure 2), and member states were using different transit routes and facing different transit-associated risks. These differences naturally led to misalignment of energy policy preferences across EU states, creating policy tensions and making it difficult to implement a common energy policy with “speaking in one voice” (see more on this issue in Le Coq and Paltseva, 2009 and 2012).
Figure 2. Gas pipeline in Europe.
The introduction of Nord Stream 1 in 2011 is an excellent example of the problem’s complexity. This new gas transit route from Russia increased the reliability of Russian gas supply for EU countries connected to this route (like Germany or France), as they were able to better diversify the transit of their imports from Russia and be less exposed to transit risks. The “Nord Stream” countries (i.e., countries connected to this route) were then willing to push politically and economically for this new project. Le Coq and Paltseva (2012) show, however, that countries unconnected to this new route while simultaneously sharing existing, “older” routes with “Nord Stream” countries would experience a decrease in their gas supply security. The reason for this is that the “directly connected” countries would now be less interested in exerting “common” political pressure to secure gas supplies along the “old” routes.
This is not to say that the EU did not learn from the above lessons. While the “speaking in one voice” energy policy initiative was not entirely successful, the EU has implemented a range of actions to cope with the risks of the security of gas supply from Russia. The next section explains how the situation is has changed since, outlining both the progress made by the EU and the newly arising risk factors.
Security of Russian Gas Supply to the EU, a Current Problem Partially Addressed
Since the end of the 2000s, the EU implemented a few changes that have positively affected the security of gas supply from Russia.
First, the EU put a significant effort into developing the internal gas market, altering both the physical infrastructure and the gas market organization. The EU updated and extended the internal gas network and introduced the wide-scale possibility of utilizing reverse flow, effectively allowing gas pipelines to be bi- rather than uni-directional. These actions improved the gas interconnections between the EU states (and other countries), thereby making potential disruptions along a particular gas transit route less damaging and diminishing the asymmetry of exposure to route-specific gas transit risks among the EU members. Ukraine’s gas import situation is a good illustration of the effect of reverse flow. Ukraine does not directly import Russian gas since 2016, mainly from Slovakia (64%), Hungary (26%), and Poland (10%) (see https://www.enerdata.net/publications/daily-energy-news/ukraine-launches-virtual-gas-reverse-flow-slovakia.html). The transformation of the gas market organization brought about the implementation of a natural gas hub in Europe and change in the mechanism of gas price formation. It is now possible to buy and sell natural gas via long-term contracts and on the spot market. With the gas market becoming more liquid, it became easier to prevent the gas supply disruption threat.
Second, Europe has made certain progress in diversifying its gas exports. According to Komlev (2021), the concentration of EU gas imports from outside of the EU (excluding Norway), as measured by the Herfindahl-Hirschman index, has decreased by around 25% between 2016 and 2020. While the imports are still highly concentrated, with the HHI equal to 3120 in 2020, this is a significant achievement. A large part of this diversification effort is the dramatic increase in the share of liquified natural gas (i.e., LNG) in its gas imports – in 2020, a fair quarter of the EU gas imports came in the form of LNG. An expanded capacity for LNG liquefaction and better fungibility of LNG would facilitate backup opportunities in the case of Russian gas supply risks and improve the diversification of the EU gas imports, thereby increasing the security of natural gas supply.
However, the above developments also have certain disadvantages, which became especially prominent during the ongoing gas crisis. For example, the fungibility of LNG has a reverse side: LNG supplies respond to variations in gas market prices across the world. This change has intensified the competition on the demand side – Europe and Asia might now compete for the same LNG. This is likely to make a secure supply of LNG – e.g., as a backup in the case of a gas supply default or as a diversification device – a costly option.
In turn, new mechanisms of gas price formation in Europe included decoupling the oil and gas prices and changing the format of long-term gas contracts. The percentage of oil-linked contracts in gas imports to the EU dropped from 47% in 2016 to 26% in 2020. In particular, 87% of Gazprom’s long-term contracts in 2020 were linked to spot and forward gas prices and only around 13% to oil prices (Komlev, 2021). This gas-on-gas linking may have contributed to the current gas crisis: Indeed, it undermined the economic incentives of Gazprom to supply more gas to the EU spot market in the current high-price market. Shipping more gas would lower spot prices and prices of hub-linked longer-term contracts for Gazprom. In that sense, the ongoing decline in Russian gas supplies to the EU may reflect not (only) geopolitical considerations but economic optimization.
Similarly, this new mechanism also finds reflection in the ongoing situation with the EU gas storage. The current EU storage capacity is 117 bcm, or almost 20% of its yearly consumption, and thus, can in principle be effective in managing the short-term volume and price shocks. However, the current gas crisis has shown that this option might be far from sufficient in the case of a gas shortage (see, e.g., Zachmann et al., 2021). One of the reasons for this insufficiency can be Gazprom controlling a sizable share of this storage capacity (see https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/E-9-2021-004781_EN.html). For example, Gazprom owns (directly and indirectly) almost one-third of all gas storage in Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands. Combining this storage market position with a long-term gas contract structure may also lead to strategic behavior for economic (on top of potential political) purposes.
Last but not least, the EU gas market is likely to be characterized by increased demand due to the green transition agenda (see Olofsgård and Strömberg, 2022). Being the least carbon-intensive fossil fuel, natural gas has an important role in facilitating green transition and increasing the electrification of the economy. For example, Le Coq et al. (2018) argues that gas capacity should be around 3 to 4 times the current capacity by 2050 for full electrification of transport and heating in France, Germany, or the Netherlands. In such circumstances, the EU is not likely to have the luxury to diminish reliance on Russian gas.
Conclusions and Policy Implications
Keeping the above discussion in mind, should the EU try to diminish its dependence on Russian gas to improve its energy security? This may be true in theory, but in practice, this might be too costly, at least in the short-to-medium run.
The current situation on the EU gas market suggests that simply cutting gas imports from Russia is likely to lead to high prices both in the energy sector and, later, in other sectors of the economy due to spillovers. Substituting gas imports from Russia with gas from other sources, such as LNG, is likely to be very costly and not necessarily very reliable. Alternative measures, e.g., improving interconnections between the EU Member States or controlling transit issues via the use of reverse flow technology, are effective but have limited impact. Simply cutting down gas demand is not a viable strategy. Indeed, with the EU pushing for a green transition and the electrification of the economy, the EU’s gas imports may have to increase. Russian gas may play an important role in this process.
As a result, we believe that the solution to keep the security issue of Russian gas supply at bay lies in the area of common energy policy. It is essential that the EU implements and effectively manages a coordinated approach in dealing with Russian gas supplies. The EU is the largest buyer of Russian gas, and given Russian dependency on hydrocarbon exports, such a synchronized approach would give the EU the possibility to exploit its “large buyer” power. While the asymmetry in exposure to Russian gas supply risks among the EU Member States is still sizable, the improvements in the functioning of the internal gas market and gas transportation within the EU make their preferences more aligned, and a common policy vector more feasible. Furthermore, recent EU initiatives on creating “strategic gas reserves” by making the Member States share their gas storage with one another would further facilitate such coordination. Implementing the “speaking in one voice” gas import policy will allow the EU to fully utilize its bargaining power vis-à-vis Gazprom and spread the benefits of new gas routes from Russia – such as Nord Stream 2 – across its Member States.
- European Commission, 2011, “Speaking with one voice – the key to securing our energy interests abroad“, press release, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_11_1005
- Komlev, S. 2021, “Evolution of Russian Gas Supple to Europe: Contracts and Prices”, Presentation at 34th WS2 GAC, https://minenergo.gov.ru/system/download/14146/158148
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- Zachmann, G., B. McWilliams and G.Sgaravatti, 2021, How serious is Europe’s natural gas storage shortfall? https://www.bruegel.org/2021/12/how-serious-is-europes-natural-gas-storage-shortfall/