This policy brief addresses risks tied to Russian business ownership in Georgia. The concentration of this ownership in critical sectors such as electricity and communications makes Georgia vulnerable to risks of political influence, corruption, economic manipulation, espionage, sabotage, and sanctions evasion. To minimize these risks, it is recommended to establish a Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) screening mechanism for Russia-originating investments, acknowledge the risks in national security documents, and implement a critical infrastructure reform.
Russia exerts substantial influence over Georgia. First and foremost, Russia has annexed 20 percent of Georgia’s internationally recognized territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Further, it employs a variety of hybrid methods to disrupt the Georgian society including disinformation, support for pro-Russian parties and media, trade restrictions, transportation blockades, sabotage incidents, and countless more. These tactics aim to hinder Georgia’s development, weaken the country’s statehood, and negatively affect pro-Western public sentiments (Seskuria, 2021 and Kavtaradze, 2023).
Factors that may also increase Georgia’s economic dependency on Russia concern trade relationships, remittances, increased economic activity driven by the most recent influx of Russian migrants, and private business ownership by Russian entities or citizens (Babych, 2023 and Transparency International Georgia, 2023). This policy brief assesses and systematizes the risks associated with Russian private business ownership in Georgia.
Sectoral Overview of Russian Business Ovnership
Russian business ownership is significant in Georgia. Recent research from the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) has addressed Russian capital accumulation across eight sectors of the Georgian economy: electricity, oil and gas, communications, banking, mining and mineral waters, construction, tourism, and transportation. Of the eight sectors considered by IDFI, Russian business ownership is most visible in Georgia’s electricity sector, followed by oil and natural gas, communications, and mining and mineral waters industries. In the remaining four sectors considered by IDFI, a low to non-existent level of influence was observed (IDFI, 2023).
Figure 1. Overview of Russian Ownership in the Georgian Economy as of June 2023.
There are several reasons for concern regarding the concentration and distribution of Russian business ownership in the Georgian economy.
First, it is crucial to keep Russia’s history as a hostile state actor in mind. Foreign business ownership is not a threat in itself; However, it may pose a threat if businesses are under control or influence of a state that is hostile to the country in question (see Larson and Marchik, 2006). Business ownership has been a powerful tool for the Kremlin, allowing Russia to influence various countries and raising concerns that such type of foreign ownership might negatively affect national security of the host country (Conley et al., 2016). Similar concerns have become imperative amidst Russia’s full-scale war in Ukraine (as, for instance, reflected in Guidance of the European Commission to member states concerning Russian foreign acquisitions).
Further, Russian business ownership in Georgia is particularly threatening due to the ownership concentration within sectors of critical significance for the overall security and economic resilience of the country. While there is no definition of critical infrastructure or related sectors in Georgia, at least two sectors (energy and communications) correspond to critical sectors, according to international standards (see for instance the list of critical infrastructure sectors for the European Union, Germany, Canada and Australia). Such sectors are inherently susceptible to a range of internal and external threats (a description of threats related to critical infrastructure can be found here). Intentional disruptions to critical infrastructure operations might initiate a chain reaction and paralyze the supply of essential services. This can, in turn, trigger major threats to the social, economic, and ecological security and the defense capacity of a state.
Georgia’s Exposure to Risks
Identifying and assessing the specific dimensions of Georgia’s exposure to risks related to Russian business ownership provides a useful foundation for designing policy responses. This brief identifies six distinct threats in this regard.
Russia’s business and political interests are closely intertwined, making it challenging to differentiate their respective motives. This interconnectedness can act as a channel for exerting political influence in Georgia. Russians that have ownership stakes in Georgian industries (e.g. within electricity, communications, oil and gas, mining and mineral waters) have political ties with the Russian ruling elite facing Western sanctions, or are facing sanctions themselves. For instance, Mikhail Fridman, who owns up to 50 percent of the mineral water company IDS Borjomi, is sanctioned for supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine. Such interlacing raises concerns about indirect Russian influence in Georgia, potentially undermining Georgia’s Western aspirations.
Export of Corrupt Practices
The presence of notable Russian businesses in Georgia poses a significant threat in terms of it nurturing corrupt practices. Concerns include “revolving door” incidents (movement of upper-level public officials into high-level private-sector jobs, or vice versa), tax evasion, and exploitation of the public procurement system. For instance, Transparency International Georgia (2023) identified a “revolving door” incident concerning the Russian company Inter RAO Georgia LLC, involved in electricity trading, and its regulator, the Georgian state-owned Electricity Market Operator JSC (ESCO). One day after Inter RAO Georgia LLC was registered, the director of ESCO took a managerial position within Inter RAO Georgia LLC. Furthermore, tax evasion inquiries involving Russian-owned companies have been documented in the region, particularly in Armenia, further highlighting corruption risks. We argue that such corrupt practices might harm the business environment and deter future international investments.
A heavy concentration of foreign ownership in critical sectors like energy and telecommunications, also poses a risk of manipulation of economic instruments such as prices. The significant Russian ownership in Armenia’s gas distribution network exemplifies this threat. In fact, Russia utilized a price manipulation strategy for gas prices when Armenia declared its EU aspirations. Prices were then reduced after Armenia joined the Eurasian Economic Union (Terzyan, 2018).
Russian-owned businesses within Georgia’s critical sectors also pose espionage risks, including economic and cyber espionage. Owners of such businesses may transfer sensitive information to Russian intelligence agencies, potentially undermining critical infrastructure operations. As an example, in 2022, a Swedish business owner in electronic trading and former Russian resident, was indicted with transferring secret economic information to Russia. Russian cyber-espionage is also known to be used for worldwide disinformation campaigns impacting public opinion and election results, compromising democratic processes.
The presence of Russian-owned businesses in Georgia raises the risk of sabotage and incapacitation of critical assets. Russia has a history of using sabotage to harm other countries, such as when they disrupted Georgia’s energy supply in 2006 and the recent Kakhovka Dam destruction in Ukraine (which had far-reaching consequences, incurring environmental damages, and posing a threat to nuclear plants). These incidents demonstrate the risk of cascading effects, potentially affecting power supply, businesses, and locations strategically important to Georgia’s security.
Sanctions and Sanction Evasion
Russian-owned businesses in Georgia face risks due to Western sanctions as they could be targeted by sanctions or used to evade them. Recent cases, like with IDS Borjomi (as previously outlined) and VTB Bank Georgia – companies affected by Western sanctions given their Russian connections – highlight Georgia’s economic vulnerability in this regard. Industries where these businesses operate play a significant role in Georgia’s economy and job market, and instabilities within such sectors could entail social and political concerns. There’s also a risk that these businesses could help Russia bypass sanctions and gain access to sensitive goods and technologies, going against Georgia’s support for international sanctions against Russia. It is crucial to prevent such sanctions-associated risks for the Georgian economy.
Assessing the Risks
To operationalize the above detailed risks, we conducted interviews with Georgian field experts within security, economics, and energy. The risk assessment highlights political influence through Russian ownership in Georgian businesses as the foremost concern, followed by risks of corruption, risks related to sanctions, espionage, economic manipulation, and sabotage. We asked the experts to assess the severity level for each identified risk and notably, all identified risks carry a high severity level.
Considering the concerns detailed in the previous sections, we argue that Russia poses a threat in the Georgian context. Given the scale and concentration of Russian ownership within critical sectors and infrastructure, a dedicated policy regime might be required to improve regulation and minimize the associated risks. Three recommendations could be efficient in this regard, as outlined below.
Study the Impact of Adopting a Foreign Direct Investment Screening Mechanism
To effectively address ownership-related threats, it’s essential to modify existing investment policies. One approach is to introduce a FDI screening mechanism with specific functionalities. Several jurisdictions implement mechanisms with similar features (see a recent report by UNCTAD for further details). Usually, such mechanisms target FDI’s that have security implications. A dedicated screening authority overviews investment that might be of concern for national security and after assessment, an investment might be approved or suspended. In Georgia, a key consideration for designing such tool includes whether it should selectively target investments from countries like Russia or apply to all incoming FDI. Additionally, there’s a choice between screening all investments or focusing on those concerning critical sectors and infrastructure. Evaluating the investment volume, possibly screening only FDI’s exceeding a predefined monetary value, is also a vital aspect to consider. However, it’s important to acknowledge that FDI screening mechanisms are costly. Therefore, this brief suggests a thorough cost and benefit analysis prior to implementing a FDI screening regime in Georgia.
Consider Russian Ownership-related Threats in the National Security Documents
Several national-level documents address security policy in Georgia, with the National Security Concept – outlining security directions – being a foundational one. Currently, these concepts do not specifically address Russian business ownership-related threats. When designing an FDI screening mechanism, however, acknowledging various risks related to Russian business ownership must be aligned with fundamental national security documents.
Foster the Adoption of a Critical Infrastructural Reform
To successfully implement a FDI screening mechanism unified, nationwide agreement on the legal foundations for identifying and safeguarding critical infrastructure is needed. The current concept for critical infrastructure reform in Georgia envisages a definition of critical infrastructure and an implementation of an FDI screening mechanism. We therefore recommend implementing this reform in the country.
This policy brief has identified six distinct risks related to Russian business ownership in several sectors of the Georgian economy, such as energy, communications, oil and natural gas, and mining and mineral waters. Even though Georgia does not have a unified definition of critical infrastructure, assets concentrated in these sectors are regarded as critical according to international standards. Considering Russia’s track record of hostility and bearing in mind threats related to foreign business ownership by malign states, this brief suggests regulating Russian business ownership in Georgia by introducing a FDI screening instrument. To operationalize this recommendation, it is further recommended to consider Russian business ownership-related threats in Georgia’s fundamental security documents and to foster critical infrastructural reform in the country.
- Babych, Y. (2023). The Georgian Economy after One Year of Russia’s War in Ukraine: Trends and Risks. ISET Policy Institute. https://iset-pi.ge/storage/media/other/2023-03-13/6982ed30-c1ad-11ed-896a-efa0ef78cee7.pdff
- Conley, H. A., Mina, J., Stefanov, R., & Vladimirov, M. (2016). The Kremlin Playbook: Understanding Russian Influence in Central and Eastern Europe. Center for Strategic and International Studies. https://csis-website-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/1601017_Conley_KremlinPlaybook_Web.pdf
- Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI). (2023, June). Russian Capital and Russian Connections in Georgian Business. https://idfi.ge/public/upload/Analysis/Russian%20capital%20and%20Russian%
- Kavtaradze, N. (2023). Hybrid Warfare and Russia’s Modern Warfare. Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (GFSIS). https://gfsis.org.ge/files/library/opinion-papers/201-expert-opinion-eng.pdf
- Larson, A. P., & Marchik, D. M. (2006). Foreign Investment and National Security. ETH Zurich. https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/20513/2006-07_ForeignInvestmentCSR.pdf
- Seskuria, N. (2021). Russia’s “Hybrid Agression” against Georgia: The Use of Local and External Tools. Center for Strategic and International Studies. https://csis-website-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/210921_Seskuria_Russia_Georgia.pdf?VersionId=__d9rw2TtaDba9xaHASf6lCEmJ.oqhA7
- Terzyan, A. (2018). The anatomy of Russia’s grip on Armenia: Bound to Persist? https://www.econstor.eu/bitstream/10419/198543/1/ceswp-v10-i2-p234-250.pdf
- Transparency International Georgia. (2023). Georgia’s Economic Dependence on Russia: Impact of the Russia-Ukraine War. Transparency International Georgia. https://transparency.ge/en/post/georgias-economic-dependence-russia-impact-russia-ukraine-war-1
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.
In the past three years, the Belarusian private sector appears to have been caught between a hammer and an anvil, experiencing domestic repressions and de-liberalization as well as collateral damage from sanctions and a deterioration of the country’s image. This policy brief discusses the challenges that Belarusian businesses have been facing since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and argues that the private sector may be the last hope for sovereignty and transformation of the country.
The years that have passed since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic shocks have significantly altered the entrepreneurial landscape in Belarus. This period has seen the emergence of private businesses’ social and political activation during the pandemic, as well as during the 2020 election campaign and post-election protests (Bornukova & Friedrich, 2021). Businesses have also had to adapt to reactionary government policies, cope with sanctions against Belarus and deal with issues related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In the face of these challenges, the reactions and responses from small and medium-sized businesses signals that the private sector still has the potential to remain a driving force for socio-economic development in Belarus – despite the current political forces in power.
Private Sector Development; Liberalization and Regulation
The liberalization of the business environment, which lasted more than a decade and ended in 2020, allowed the private sector (enterprises without any state ownership share) to become the most dynamic part of the economy (see Figure 1).
From 2012 through 2020, the share of the private sector in employment increased by 7.7 percentage points. Similarly, the contribution from the private sector to the export of goods and services, as well as to GDP, exceeded the contribution from state-owned commercial enterprises. Moreover, even in the absence of significant privatization and restructuring of state-owned enterprises, the private sector took over the “social” function as an “employer of last resort”, absorbing workers released from the public sector (including from fully and partly state-owned enterprises) (IPM Research Center, 2020).
In addition, the development of the private sector increased the diversification of Belarus’ foreign trade. Private companies in the IT sector, advanced instrument manufacturing, electronics, and other high-value-added industries shifted their focus to developed countries’ markets, which reduced the dependency on Russian resources and markets. This increased Belarus’ economic sovereignty and its resilience to political tensions and other external shocks. The year 2020 however marked the end of the liberalization of entrepreneurial activities, as private businesses and private capital started to be seen as a threat to the political system (Bornukova & Friedrich, 2021).
Figure 1. Contributions from the Belarusian private sector to main economic indicators.
Although there are no uncontestable figures describing business’ attitudes and activities during the political crisis in 2020, several non-academic projects documented that 58 percent of people protesting the fraud elections in 2020 worked within the private business sector (Devby.io, 2020). Dozens of businesses also openly supported the anti-regime strikes (The Village Belarus, 2020). As a consequence, legislation and law enforcement have since been steadily tightened, the tax burden has increased, and the possibility for using simplified taxation and accounting systems by small-scale businesses, in particular for sole proprietors, have been substantially reduced.
Against this backdrop, the government has also suppressed the publication of detailed statistical data including those on entrepreneurial activity. Since 2020, the Belarusian Research and Outreach Center (BEROC)’s quarterly enterprise surveys have become the main source of information and analysis on the business development situation.
In general, BEROC’s surveys demonstrate that, despite a reduced safety cushion and the lack of substantial state support during the pandemic, Belarusian businesses had, by the end of 2021, adapted to the shocks from the post-election crisis and harsh de-liberalization, by realizing their ability to cope, and finding creative solutions in the turbulent environment (Marozau, Akulava and Panasevich, 2021). Before Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, Belarusian entrepreneurs’ optimism about overcoming external barriers – i.e., factors that are out of a firm’s control such as macroeconomic instability, etc. – was the highest since 2015. However, increased uncertainty forced Belarusian businesses to focus primarily on maintaining the achieved scale of activity, halting investments (Kastrychnicki Economic Forum (KEF) & BEROC, 2022).
Optimism In Challenging Times
In general, the institutional environment for doing business in Belarus has deteriorated in recent years, both due to actions such as changes in tax legislation, price regulation and pressure on disloyal businesses, and due to negligence from the state, such as lack of significant support measures for private business, an outflow of businesses due to sanctions and an increasingly negative image of the country (KEF & BEROC, 2022). The Business Confidence Index (BCI, ranging from 0 – “extremely negative” to 100 – “extremely positive”), developed by BEROC and the Kastrychnicki Economic Forum based on OECD methodology, documented that at the end of 2020, the confidence level of business representatives regarding future developments was in the negative zone – arguably due to the political unrest and the Covid-19 pandemic. As firms accepted a new normality and adjusted their businesses, the BCI steadily grew before comfortably settling in the neutral zone at the end of 2021 (see Figure 2).
In March-April 2022, however, macroeconomic instability, disruption of supply chains, and shortages of raw materials and/or components following the Russian war on Ukraine became serious external barriers for Belarusian businesses. This lowered the BCI and businesses’ perception of their economic situation.
Quite surprisingly, the risks of doing business in Belarus in the second half of 2022, until early 2023, were estimated to be lower than in 2021 (see Figure 3). This may be explained by the fact that (for companies remaining in Belarus) many of the potential risks (inflation, exchange rate instability, sanctions, counter-sanctions, disruption of supply chains, tightening of price regulation, etc.) had already realized (BEROC, 2023).
Figure 2. Business Confidence Index and GDP growth rate, October 2020-March 2023.
Figure 3. Risk perception by Belarusian Businesses.
The New Reality
The reaction from most Belarusian businesses to both pandemic- and war-related challenges has manifested in their search for new business models, an introduction of new products/services, and the entry into new export markets. Despite a bundle of powerful shocks to the economy stemming from the Russian war on Ukraine and related sanctions, some factors have dampened the anticipated drop in the economy: in particular, the increase in Russian support, export re-orientation to Russia and developing markets, alongside monetary stimuli, and interference with the activity of state-owned enterprises as well as artificial price controls (Kruk & Lvovskiy, 2022). As a result, the standard of living has remained at pre-war levels: in January-April 2023, real household disposable income and real salary grew by 1.6 percent and 3.8 percent respectively. With sanctions on Belarus being comparatively softer than those on Russian businesses, Belarusian businesses may have gained a comparative advantage and additional opportunities in both the domestic and Russian markets (BEROC, 2022). This caused optimism among entrepreneurs and in March 2023 – for the first time in the considered period – the composite BCI turned out to substantially exceed the neutral zone (see Figure 2). These positive spillovers are however likely to be bound in time – they will end both if the state of the Russian economy worsens (as this would reduce Russian support and decrease export revenues for Belarusian firms), and in the unlikely scenario that Russia’s current isolation is reduced. Whether Belarusian businesses will withstand the current protracted crisis depends on the ability of state authorities (current or new) to restore a constructive dialogue with the business community, return to the rule of law and create a business environment conducive to entrepreneurship.
According to business, the key factor needed to expand business activity is a reduction of external barriers (such as disruptions to supply chains, shortages of raw materials and/or components), rather than government support (e.g., financial, informational, etc.) (KEF & BEROC, 2022). Thus, “We do not need state support, but need the state not to worsen legal conditions for doing business” has become a motto of Belarusian entrepreneurs. Even in the context of war and political instability in the region, it allows looking at the prospects of the private sector in Belarus with some positive expectations.
At the same time, factors such as political repressions, sanctions against Belarus, problems with logistics, and the refusal of business partners to work with Belarusian companies due to the Russian aggression towards Ukraine have forced many Belarusian businesses, especially in high-tech sectors, to relocate. While the scale and direction of Belarusian business emigration is still difficult to assess (Krasko & Daneyko, 2022), these processes devastate entrepreneurship capital in Belarus and jeopardize the prospect of entire sectors such as the IT sector. In addition, the popular opinion about the lack of business opportunities implies that, unless conditions improve in terms of state policy and public confidence in the future, the socio-economic effects (employment, value added, tax revenue, innovations) from entrepreneurial activity in Belarus will diminish (GEM-Belarus 2021/2022). With operations severely affected by external barriers and restrictive legislation, halted investments and limited, if any, commercial contacts with Western countries and individual businesses, Belarusian private enterprises can hardly be seen as a source of stability for the current regime.
To promote an increased role of the private sector in the Belarusian economy, and to ensure high-quality and sustainable growth of the same, two prerequisites are critically necessary.
Firstly, a resolution of the political crisis and a restoration of authorities’ and state institutions’ legitimacy will significantly increase the populations’ confidence in state policy on business and economics. The principle of rule of law must be recognized and public and private actors must be treated equally in all spheres. It is also necessary to ensure the stability of tax legislation and economic law and the mitigation of excessive state control of business activities. All the above would lower external barriers and create stimuli for long-term business investments that, in turn, would facilitate economic transformation.
Although the sanctions’ packages imposed on Belarus by most developed countries due to domestic repressions, and complicity in the aggression against Ukraine, were directed towards the public sector, the private business suffered substantial macroeconomic and reputational consequences in their wake. The refusal of many foreign partners (suppliers, customers, banks, transport companies etc.) to work with Belarusian businesses – regardless of their affiliation with the state and attitude towards Lukashenko’s regime as well as towards the war on Ukraine – also substantially undermine businesses’ potential and Western soft power in Belarus. Such refusal is often driven by the argument that, by paying taxes, private businesses in Belarus support the current regime, when they should instead undermine the regime by halting operations (and thus tax revenues). At the same time, with the complete liquidation of civil society organizations and the termination of international projects and initiatives, the Belarusian private business may serve as the last resort in the hope of achieving independent, decentralized, and autonomous decision-making – all cornerstones of modern democracy (Audretsch & Moog, 2022).
From this perspective, the preservation of the private sector in Belarus may be of decisive importance in the future political processes, necessary to take into account by policymakers and business elites alike in developed countries.
In addition, relocated Belarusian businesses can play an important role in transforming the country by developing social ties between entrepreneurs and civil society, by providing support when solving problems related to doing business outside of Belarus and by investing in the Belarusian economy in the future. In this regard, establishing non-partisan Belarusian business associations abroad creates preconditions for consolidation of the most active part of the Belarusian community and its involvement in the envisaged economic transformation of the country.
- Audretsch, D. B., & Moog, P. (2022). Democracy and Entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 46(2), 368–392.
- BEROC. (2022). “Will Entrepreneurs Be Able to Reactivate the Belarusian Economy?”. FREE Policy Brief.
- BEROC. (2023). Bulletin “Small- and Medium-sized Business”. March 2023 (in Russian).
- Bornukova, K. & Friedrich, D. (2021). “Private Sector in Belarus and Political Crisis”. Policy Brief | December 2021
- Chubrik, А. (2021). “Back to the Future or a Short Historical note on the Belarusian Private Sector”. Discussion paper #2021/03 (in Russian).
- GEM-Belarus 2021/2022. (2022). “Global Entrepreneurship Monitor. Belarus Country Report”.
- IPM Research Center. (2020). “Graph of the Month, Table of the Week: Employer of Last Resort”. #6-7, June 2020 (in Russian).
- Kastrychnicki Economic Forum & BEROC. (2022). “Small and Medium-sized Business of Belarus: Situation and Plans on the Eve of Shocks” (in Russian).
- Krasko, N. & Daneyko P. (2022). “Belarusian Business Abroad: Needs, Problems and Potential of Interaction within National Business Communities”. BEROC Working Paper Series, WP no. 80 (in Russian).
- Kruk, D. & Lvovskiy L. (2022). “Belarus Under War Sanctions”. FREE Policy Brief.
- Marozau R., Akulava M., & Panasevich V. (2021). “Did the Government Help Belarusian SMEs to Survive in 2020?”. FREE Policy Brief.
- National Statistical Committee of the Republic of Belarus. https://president.gov.by/en/statebodies/national-statistical-committee
- Devby.io (2020). “10,000 Days of Arrest. Portrait of a Protester from 23.34” (in Russian).
- The Village Belarus. (2020). “Which Companies Supported the Strike and Are not Working” (in Russian).
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.
This policy brief is based on an empirical examination of the early-stage migration of Ukrainian war asylum seekers to Latvia in 2022, following the Russian invasion. The study highlights the urgent nature of their displacement and identifies the pivotal role of kinship in Latvia in the decision-making. Three categories of refugees emerge based on kinship ties, employment opportunities, and cultural affinity. The study also reveals the substantial influence of the pre-existing Ukrainian diaspora and underlines the significance of network effects in refugees’ location decisions. Contrary to previous studies, refugees didn’t necessarily settle for the first country available. The research underscores the strategy of seeking support from personal networks in acute displacement scenarios, which appears to be the most influential factor for the choice of location in the decision-making process.
Ukrainian Displaced People in Latvia
The Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 triggered a geopolitical upheaval in Europe and resulted in a mass exodus that had not been witnessed since World War II. With the war showing no signs of cessation, return for many of these displaced people appears difficult in the near future. Latvia, although not a bordering country, have become a haven for 36 000 Ukrainian refugees.
This brief seeks insight into Ukrainian displaced people’s preference for Latvia, using interviews conducted in March 2022, a month after the war began. With no common border between Ukraine and Latvia these refugees had to transit through other countries, making the question about the choice of Latvia as their ultimate destination particularly relevant.
Unlike during the migration crisis in 2015 and during the recent influx of Syrians and other groups, the Ukrainian refugees found themselves being welcomed with open arms, belying Latvia’s typically guarded stance towards immigrants. This unexpected warmth is influenced by a multifaceted kinship rooted in historical connections from the Soviet era, a pre-existing Ukrainian diaspora in Latvia, labor migration, and shared cultural elements.
These factors can also play a role in Ukrainian refugees’ choice of Latvia as their ultimate destination. The study underlying this policy brief seeks to explore these facets and unravel the reasons behind the Ukrainian refugees’ choice to seek safety in Latvia.
Two aspects are crucial in the analysis of migration decisions: the factors that influence refugees’ choice of destination and the process underlying this decision.
Traditional assumptions surrounding asylum-seeker migration, as emphasized by Böcker and Havinga (1997), suggest that when people are forced to flee, their primary focus is safety – not destination. However, more nuanced perspectives have evolved in recent studies (see Robinson and Sergott, 2002; Brekke and Aarset, 2009). They highlight the calculated and adaptable nature of refugee destination choices throughout the asylum-seeking migration journey, demonstrating that circumstances and journey stage significantly influence destination choices.
Research indicates that host country policies and economic conditions can both enhance and limit refugee flows (Czaika and de Haas, 2017; Ortega and Peri, 2013; Brekke and Aarset, 2009; Diop-Christensen and Diop, 2021; Kang, 2021; Suzuki,2020; Collyer, 2005). However, another line of research emphasizes that policy and economic factors are secondary to networks, cultural affinity, language, and perceptions in determining destination choices (Robinson and Sergott, 2002). Factors such as social networks (Koser and Pinkerton, 2002; Tucker 2018), kinship (Havinga and Böcker, 1999; Neumayer, 2005; Mallett and Hagen-Zanker, 2018), financial resources (Mallett and Hagen-Zanker, 2018), geography (Neumayer, 2005; Kang, 2021), destination country image (Benzer and Zetter, 2014), culture (Suzuki, 2020), and colonial links (Havinga and Böcker, 1999) have been established to be significant at various stages of migration. Economic and education opportunities are also found to have a marginal influence on destination decision-making compared to the possibility of resolving statelessness (Tucker, 2018).
These varying determinants of destination may also be contingent on the refugee journey stage. Policies may not dominate in acute cases of forced migration (Diop-Christensen and Diop, 2021). For individuals with time to prepare for migration, a cost-benefit analysis often informs their decisions. In contrast, those in urgent circumstances, such as during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, may have to take immediate refuge and put less emphasis on benefits and policies (Robinson and Sergott, 2002). Destination determinants differ by both origin and destination countries (Havinga and Böcker, 1999, Tucker, 2018, Gilbert and Koser, 2006). Thus, research on underexplored regions and countries is valuable for a comprehensive understanding of migration patterns.
Migration, voluntary or forced, involves intricate decision-making. As Mallett and Hagen-Zanker (2018) aptly state, the dynamic experiences ‘on the road’ shape refugees’ journey and destination choices. Robinson and Sergott (2002) and Brekke and Aarset, 2009 have pioneered models for asylum seekers’ decision-making, suggesting that factors such as networks, language, cultural affinity, and perceptions evolve across different stages of the asylum journey. Others, like Gonsalves (1992) and Shultz et al. (2020), have constructed models delineating stages of refugee passage and displacement, highlighting the changing needs and preferences of refugees.
While existing literature mainly focuses on the later stages of forced migration journeys, limited empirical evidence exists on the migration moves during acute displacement. Additionally, further understanding on migration induced by the war on Ukraine is needed. There is also incomplete coverage of asylum seeker and refugee topics in the Baltic countries, making such research particularly relevant. To address these gaps, this brief aims to provide qualitative findings on the decision-making and experiences of Ukrainian displaced people in Latvia.
Understanding the Decision
The research underlying this brief explored the reasons behind Ukrainian displaced people’s choice of Latvia as their migration destination during the early part of the invasion. The study is based on 34 semi-structured, in-depth interviews with displaced people conducted in March 2022. The dataset is part of a larger study that includes continuous interviews to understand Ukrainian displaced people’s lives, plans and needs in Latvia.
From the interviews, it was apparent that the predominant factor in respondents’ decision-making was the presence of kin or acquaintances in Latvia.
All but one participant had some connection to Latvia, whether through distant relatives, friends, or professional contacts. The one participant without such connections arrived from Russia and not from Ukraine, working on a contract. A minority of our participants considered staying in Ukraine. One example is Lidiia, who initially planned to move near Lviv, but redirected to Riga during the journey.
“She found a family that would host us, 100 km from Lviv… We agreed, but then our friends… called us on the way, we were leaving Kyiv under bombardment. Our train was delayed because of the air alarm. When we just arrived there, a shell exploded above the railway station… And on the way, friends from Riga called us and invited us: ‘Come, everyone will help here’. Therefore, everything changed while we were on the train, we decided everything“ (Lidiia).
Proximity of kin was not the primary concern for the interviewees; the mere fact that they had a relative in Latvia appeared more influential in their narratives. Indeed, the majority of participants had distant rather than close kin, though a few had close family in Latvia (grandparents, parents, common-law husband, and sister). As Olena explained, the presence of even distant relatives influenced her choice: “there are distant relatives, very distant… That’s why we came” (Olena). However, ties in Latvia were not the only determinants as many of the participants also had family connections in other parts of Europe.
The speed of decision-making was also striking – most decisions to migrate were not a matter of long-term planning but a reaction to the sudden crisis, often influenced by incoming offers of assistance. Nataliia remembered: “My mother said, ‘You have to leave because everything is so fatally bad. Take the children and leave.’ And literally overnight I packed up, bought the tickets. But first I went to Poland, to my brother” (Nataliia).
Maryana ended up choosing her destination only after leaving home. “At first, we thought to go to Poland, but it is completely crowded, and then we called to whoever we could. There are no relatives in other countries. No, there are relatives in other cities, but these are Luhansk, Donetsk, we are from Slobozhanska Ukraine, so all our relatives are from the side where very heavy fighting is going on now“ (Maryana). Such testimonies illuminate how, owing to the immediacy of the situation, the eventual destination of some displaced Ukrainians was not predetermined but evolved during their respective journeys.
From the interviews with the participants who knew someone in Latvia, one can identify three groups based on the main factor that determined their decision.
Network, First of All
For respondents who did not have family in Latvia, friends, acquaintances, and professional contacts in Latvia acted as anchors. Like family members, such acquaintances often reached out, offering assistance and lodging as soon as they heard the news of the war. The influx of supportive communication from Latvian acquaintances influenced the decision for many participants.
Olha decided to flee with her friend, who had a distant cousin residing in Latvia. Upon the onset of the conflict, the cousin reached out and urged them to come to Latvia. As Olha recalls: “As soon as she heard that there was a bombing in Kharkiv, she said, ‘Come’. My friend, with whom I came, Lesya, does not have a car, so she immediately told me… let’s run away’” (Olha).
Lidiia received an invitation from a Latvian friend she had met through her church, even as she was already in the process of fleeing Ukraine. Similarly, Andrii, who was vacationing abroad at the time of the war’s outbreak, remembered: “On the 25th our best friend wrote to us that, ‘There is housing, come here’ and we began to negotiate with the embassy to fly here” (Andrii).
Even in the absence of explicit messages, displaced individuals recalled having friends and family in Latvia and chose to make their way to Riga. Olena, like Lidiia, initially set off without a clear destination in mind. It wasn’t until she reached the border that she decided to head to Latvia: “Just at the border that you decided where to go?” (Olena).
Existing friendships and ongoing communication also influenced some people’s choice to opt for Latvia. Olha (2) was encouraged by her daughter to relocate to Riga due to her daughter’s friendships with Latvians that she had formed at a camp in Estonia: “Friends appeared, with whom she was in close contact for six months. That’s why for her there was no choice at all ‘Where?’. She immediately said: ‘To Riga’” (Olha (2)).
Opportunities and Realities
The turning point for many respondents was their arrival in Poland as, initially, Latvia was not the principal or only choice of destination. These respondents emphasized that, besides having friends and relatives in Latvia, they also contemplated where they might find better opportunities. Their narratives provide a contrasting perspective of Poland and Latvia. While traversing Poland, their general impression was that the country was already ‘overfilled’, which in turn kindled the notion that Latvia might harbor more possibilities. For this group of displaced individuals, the importance of employment prospects was paramount.
Nataliia took the decision to head for Latvia, choosing to stay with remote kin there rather than with her sibling in Poland, as she believed Poland lacked opportunities for her. In Myroslava’s case, a friend helped secure a job in Latvia: “We didn’t choose Latvia for any particular reason – better or worse, we didn’t care. We needed somewhere to stay, somewhere to work in order to live. Well, that’s why when a job turned up through acquaintances, they said that a person was needed here, we immediately gathered. Could not be found in Poland. In Poland, there was simply no work, no housing” (Myroslava).
Bohdan, too, mentioned the crowdedness and the high cost of living in Poland, hence deciding to move further north to Latvia: “We didn’t have a specific plan because we weren’t at all sure we would succeed. In general, my wife benefits from going to Poland, she works for an IT company operating in Poland. And we thought about getting there at first, but when we got to Poland, everything was already full. There were such expensive options, $1600 a month, we were shocked” (Bohdan).
Anastasiia echoed similar concerns: “We arrived in Warsaw, reunited there and tried to stay in Warsaw and look for a place, but there are a lot of people there, and there is no place to live, very… food, maybe cheaper than in Latvia, but there is no place to live… no place to work. And I would like to work somehow… not to be dependent” (Anastasiia).
These stories illuminate another stratum of decision-making, that beyond familial ties, participants also considered the opportunities available at their chosen destination. They accumulate information on their journey and recalibrate their destination accordingly.
Cultural Kinship, Language, Diaspora
Not all participants had prior personal experience with Latvia, even if they had relatives there. A lot of their understanding about the country stemmed from stories they’d heard or news they’d come across. This third group of participants decided on Latvia not only because they knew someone in the country, but also because they saw value in shared language, culture, and history.
Political and cultural connections played a significant role in their choice. Being able to communicate in Russian and Ukrainian in Latvia was a crucial factor, as it was associated with a smoother integration process and increased job opportunities. Nadiia, who traveled to Latvia via Poland and Budapest, elaborated on this: “And I was in Latvia and here there is an opportunity to communicate in Ukrainian, in Russian” (Nadiia).
The possibility of being accepted and integrated into the local community was also mentioned as a decision-driver. Oksana shared that her father, who had previously worked in Riga, advised her to go to Latvia: “you guys, probably go to Riga, well, because you will be accepted there, accommodated” (Oksana).
Nonetheless, choosing Latvia because of the possibility to communicate in Russian does not come without complications. Nataliia B., for instance, found the topic of language stirring up strong emotions and confessed that she doesn’t wish to speak Russian anymore: “I had such a psychological reaction – I didn’t speak Ukrainian for many years, and when all these events began, I read, I remember well how I woke up in the morning and began to speak Ukrainian. My thoughts have become Ukrainian” (Nataliia B.).
Moreover, having knowledge of the Ukrainian diaspora in the country also proved an important factor. “I also found out that there is a Ukrainian diaspora in Latvia of about 50 000 people, as I heard in the Latvian news. And this also encouraged me, I realised that I could find help from my compatriots” (Nadiia). This observation underlines the role of cultural kinship in the decision-making process regarding destination, and it can indeed be seen as a decisive factor. As the diaspora expands with the influx of more displaced people, this rationale for choosing Latvia may become increasingly common.
The study underlying this brief provided empirical insight into the initial phases of Ukrainian war asylum seekers’ journey to Latvia in 2022, enhancing our understanding of the factors that influenced the choice of Latvia over other destinations.
Ukrainians fleeing the early stage of the 2022 Russian invasion were compelled to make swift and difficult decisions due to the pressing crisis. Leaving behind their familiar lives, properties, and dear ones – often the very individuals facilitating their exodus for safety reasons – was a harrowing reality. The support from kin and acquaintances in Latvia was crucial in endorsing their decision to seek refuge in the country.
Three groups emerged among the Ukrainian refugees in Latvia, all connected by personal relationships to some degree. The factors influencing their migration ranged from the presence of kin and considerations of employment prospects, to shared language, culture, and history. The fact that the initial outreach usually originated from the Latvian side underscores the profound solidarity and active support provided by Latvians to their Ukrainian counterparts. This likely also played a significant role in the refugees’ decisions. The pre-existing Ukrainian diaspora in Latvia, estimated at around 50 000 before the invasion, also significantly influenced the choice of Latvia as a refuge.
Financially-related factors such as seeking benefits were largely absent from the narratives, likely due to the geographic proximity, relatively low costs, and the urgent nature of the displacement. The most significant determinant in choosing Latvia as the destination appeared to be the network effect, contrasting with Robinson and Sergott (2002) findings that acute asylum seekers often settle for the first country available.
Given the emergency nature of the displacement, no unambiguous pattern in the location decision could be established. The narrative varied considerably among respondents with decisions often being made, or altered, on the fly. However, in most cases, personal relationships played a primary role in shaping the choices among Ukrainian refugees in Latvia.
For policy-makers planning and responding to acute migration crises, the study highlights the importance of mapping and understanding multifaceted kinships, as well as culture and history. The mapping can be used to plan support and allocate resources to give displaced people an opportunity of a place where they feel welcomed and connected, with hopes of greater integration.
- Böcker, A. and Havinga, T. (1997). Asylum Migration to the European Union: Patterns of Origin and Destination, Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.
- Brekke, J. P. and Aarset, M. F. (2009). Why Norway? Understanding Asylum Destinations, Institute for Social Research, Oslo.
- Collyer, M. (2005). When do social networks fail to explain migration? Accounting for the movement of Algerian asylum-seekers to the UK. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 31(4), 699-718.
- Czaika, M. and de Haas, H. (2017). The effect of visas on migration processes. International Migration Review, 51(4), 893-926.
- Diop-Christensen, A. and Diop, L. E. (2021). What do asylum seekers prioritise—safety or welfare benefits? The influence of policies on asylum flows to the EU15 countries. Journal of Refugee Studies.
- Gilbert, A. and Koser, K. (2006). Coming to the UK: what do asylum-seekers know about the UK before arrival? Journal of ethnic and migration studies, 32(7), 1209-1225.
- Gonsalves, C. J. (1992). Psychological stages of the refugee process: A model for therapeutic interventions. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 23(5), 382.
- Havinga, T. and Böcker, A. (1999). Country of asylum by choice or by chance: Asylum‐seekers in Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK. Journal of ethnic and migration studies, 25(1), 43-61.
- Kang, Y. D. (2021). Refugee crisis in Europe: determinants of asylum seeking in European countries from 2008–2014. Journal of European Integration, 43(1), 33-48.
- Koser, K. and Pinkerton, C. (2002). The social networks of asylum seekers and the dissemination of information about countries of asylum.
- Mallett, R., & Hagen-Zanker, J. (2018). Forced migration trajectories: An analysis of journey-and decision-making among Eritrean and Syrian arrivals to Europe. Migration and Development, 7(3), 341-351.
- Neumayer, E. (2005). Bogus refugees? The determinants of asylum migration to Western Europe. International studies quarterly, 49(3), 389-409.
- Neumayer, E. (2004). Asylum destination choice: what makes some West European countries more attractive than others? European Union Politics, 5(2), 155-180.
- Ortega, F., and Peri, G. (2013). The effect of income and immigration policies on international migration. Migration Studies, 1(1), 47-74.
- Robinson, V., and Segrott, J. (2002). Understanding the decision-making of asylum seekers (Vol. 12). London: Home Office.
- Shultz, C., Barrios, A., Krasnikov, A. V., Becker, I., Bennett, A. M., Emile, R., Hokkinen, M., Pennington, J. R., Santos, M., and Sierra, J. (2020). The Global Refugee Crisis: Pathway for a More Humanitarian Solution. Journal of Macromarketing, 40(1), 128–143.
- Suzuki, T. (2020). Destination choice of asylum applicants in Europe from three conflict-affected countries. Migration and Development, 1-13.
- Tucker, J. (2018). Why here? Factors influencing Palestinian refugees from Syria in choosing Germany or Sweden as asylum destinations. Comparative migration studies, 6(1), 1-17.
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
The Russian war on Ukraine has turmoiled Europe into its first war in decades and while the effects of the war are harshly felt in Ukraine with lives lost and damages amounting, Europe and the rest of the world are also being severely affected. This policy brief shortly summarizes the presentations and discussions at the SITE Development Day Conference, held on December 6, 2022. The main focus of the conference was how to maintain and organize support for Ukraine in the short and long run, with the current situation in Belarus and the region and the ongoing energy crisis in Europe, also being addressed.
War in Ukraine, Oppression in Belarus
Starting off the conference, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Leader of the Belarusian Democratic Forces, delivered a powerful speech on the necessity of understanding the role of Belarus in the ongoing war in Ukraine. Tsikhanouskaya argued that Putin’s war on Ukraine was partly a result of the failed Belarusian revolution of 2020. The following oppression, torture, and mass arrestations of Belarusians is a consequence of Lukashenka’s and Putin’s fear of a free Belarus, a Belarus that is no longer in the hands of Putin – who sees not only Belarus but also Ukraine as colonies in his Russian empire. Amidst the fight for Ukraine, we must also fight for a free Belarus, Tsikhanouskaya added. Not only Belarusians fighting alongside Ukrainians against Russia in Ukraine, but also other parts of the Belarusian opposition need support from the free and democratic world and the EU. The massive crackdowns on opponents of the Belarusian regime today and the war on Ukraine are not only acts of violence, but they are also acts against democracy and freedom. The world must therefore continue to give support to those fighting in both Belarus and Ukraine. Ukraine will never be free unless Belarus is free, Tsikhanouskaya concluded.
Johan Forssell, Minister of Foreign Trade and International Development Cooperation continued Tsikhanouskaya’s words on how the Russian attack must be seen and treated as a war on democracy and the free world. Belarus, Moldova and especially Ukraine will receive further support from Sweden, Forssell continued, adding that the Swedish support to Ukraine has more than doubled since the invasion in February 2022. Support must however not be given only in economic terms and consequently Sweden fully supports Ukraine on its path to EU-membership, which will be especially emphasized during Sweden’s upcoming EU-presidency. Support for the rule of law, democracy and freedom will continue to be essential and, in the forthcoming reconstruction of Ukraine, these aspects – alongside long term sustainable and green solutions – must be integrated, Forssell continued. Forssell also mentioned the importance of reducing the global spillover effects from the war. In particular, Forssell mentioned how the war has struck countries on the African continent, already hit with drought, especially hard with increased food prices and increased inflation, displaying the vital role Ukrainian grain exports play.
Andrij Plachotnjuk, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to the Kingdom of Sweden, further talked about the need for rebuilding a better Ukraine, emphasizing the importance of involvement from Kiyv School of Economics (KSE) and other intellectuals and businesses in this process. Plachotnjuk also pinpointed what many others would come to repeat during the day; that resources, time and efforts devoted to supporting Ukraine must be maintained and persevered in the longer perspective.
Economic Impacts From the War and How the EU and Sweden Can Provide Support
During the first half of the conference, the Ukrainian economy and how it can be supported by the European Union was also discussed. On link from Kiyv, Tymofiy Mylovanov, President of the Kyiv School of Economics, shared the experiences of the University during wartime and presented the work KSE has undertaken so far – and how this contributes to an understanding of the damages and associated costs. Since the invasion, KSE has supported the government in three key areas; 1) Monitoring the Russian economy, 2) Analyzing what sanctions are relevant and effective, and 3) Estimating the cost of damages from the war. For the latter, KSE is collaborating with the World Bank using established methods of damage assessment including crowd sourced information on damages complemented with images taken by satellites and drones. According to Mylovanov, the damage assessment is crucial in order to counter Russia’s claims of a small conflict and to remind the international community of the high price Ukraine is paying to hold off Russia.
The economic impact from the war was further accentuated during the presentation by Yulia Markuts, Head of the Centre of Public Finance and Governance Analysis at the Kyiv School of Economics. Markuts explained how the Ukrainian national budget as of today is a “wartime budget”. Since February 2022, the budget has been reoriented with defense and security spending having increased 9 times compared to 2021, whereas only the most pressing social expenditures have been implemented. This in a situation where the Ukrainian GDP has simultaneously decreased by 30 percent. Although there has been a substantial inflow of foreign aid, in the form of grants and loans, the Ukrainian budget deficit for 2023 is estimated to 21 percent. Part of the uncertainty surrounding the Ukrainian budget stems from the fact that the inflow from the donor community is irregular, prompting the government to cover budget deficits through the National Bank which fuels inflation and undermines the exchange rate. Apart from the large budget posts concerning military spending, major infrastructural damages are putting further pressure on the Ukrainian budget in the year to come, Markuts continued. As of November 2022, the damages caused by Russia to infrastructure in Ukraine amounted to 135,9 billion US Dollars, with the largest damages having occurred in the Kiyv and Donetsk regions, as depicted in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Ukrainian regions most affected by war damages, as of November 2022.
The infrastructural damages constitute a large part of the estimated needed recovery support for Ukraine, together with losses to the state and businesses amounting to over one trillion US Dollars. However, such estimates do not cover the suffering the Ukrainian people have encountered from the war.
The large need for steady support was discussed by Fredrik Löjdquist, Centre Director of the Stockholm Centre for Eastern European Studies (SCEEUS), who argued the money needs to be seen as an investment rather than a cost, and that we at all times need to keep in mind what the consequences would be if the support for Ukraine were to fizzle out. Löjdquist, together with Cecilia Thorfinn, Team leader of the Communications Unit at the Representation of the European Commission in Sweden, also emphasized how the reconstruction should be tailored to fit the standards within the European Union, given Ukraine’s candidacy status. Thorfinn further stressed that the reconstruction must be a collective effort from the international community, although led by Ukraine. The EU is today to a large extent providing their financial support to Ukraine through the European Investment Bank (EIB). Jean-Erik de Zagon, Head of the Representation to Ukraine at the EIB, briefly presented their efforts thus far in Ukraine, efforts that have mainly been aimed at rebuilding key infrastructure. Since the war, the EIB has deployed an emergency package of 668 million Euro and 1,59 billion for the infrastructure financing gap. While all member states need to come together to ensure continued support for Ukraine, the EIB is ready to continue playing a key role in the rebuilding of Ukraine and to provide technical assistance in the upcoming reconstruction, de Zagon said. This can be especially fruitful as the EIB already has ample knowledge on how to carry out projects in Ukraine.
During a panel discussion on how Swedish support has, can and should continuously be deployed, Jan Ruth, Deputy Head of the Unit for Europe and Latin America at Sida, explained Sida’s engagement in Ukraine and the agency’s ambition to implement a solid waste management project. The project, in line with the need for a green and environmentally friendly rebuild, is today especially urgent given the massive destructions to Ukrainian buildings which has generated large amounts of construction waste. Karin Kronhöffer, Director of Strategy and Communication at Swedfund, also accentuated the need for sustainability in the rebuild. Swedfund invests within the three sectors of energy and climate, financial inclusion, and sustainable enterprises, and hash previously invested within the energy sector in Ukraine. Swedfund is also currently engaged in a pre-feasibility study in Ukraine which would allow for a national emergency response mechanism. Representing the business side, Andreas Flodström, CEO and founder of Beetroot, shared some experiences from founding and operating a tech company in Ukraine for the last 10 years. According to Flodström there will, apart from a huge need in investments in infrastructure, also be a large need for technical skills in the rebuild. Keeping this in mind, bootcamp style educations are a necessity as they provide Ukrainians with essential skills to rebuild their country.
A recurring theme in both panel discussions was how the reconstruction requires both public and private foreign investments. Early on, as the war continues, public investments will play the dominant part, but when the situation becomes more stable, initiatives to encourage private investments will be important. The potential of using public resources to facilitate private investments through credit guarantees and other risk mitigation strategies was brought up both at the European and the Swedish level, something which has also been emphasized by the new Swedish government.
Impacts From the War Outside of Ukraine – Energy Crisis and Other Consequences in the Region
The conference also covered the effects of the war outside of Ukraine, initially keying in on the consequences from the war on energy supply and prices in Europe. Chloé Le Coq, Professor of Economics, University Paris-Pantheon-Assas (CRED) & SITE, gave a presentation of the current situation and the short- and long-term implications. Le Coq explained that while the energy market is in fact functioning – displaying price increases in times of scarcity – the high prices might lead to some consumers being unable to pay while some energy producers are making unprecedented profits. The EU has successfully undertaken measures such as filling its gas storage to about 95 percent (goal of 80 percent), reducing electricity usage in its member countries, and by capping market revenues and introducing a windfall tax. While the EU is thus appearing to fare well in the short run, the reality is that EU has increased its coal dependency and paid eight times more in 2022 to fill its gas storage (primarily due to the imports of more costly Liquified Natural Gas, LNG). In the long run, these trends are concerning given the negative environmental externalities from coal usage and the market uncertainty when it comes to the accessibility and pricing of LNG. Uncertainties and new regulation also hinder investments signals into new low-carbon technologies, Le Coq concluded. Bringing an industrial perspective to the topic, Pär Hermerèn, Senior advisor at Jernkontoret, highlighted how the energy crisis is amplified by the increased electricity demand due to the green transition. Given the double or triple upcoming demand for electricity, Hermerèn, referred back to the investment signals, saying Sweden might run the risk of losing market shares or even seeing investment opportunities leave Sweden. This aspect was also highlighted by Lars Andersson, Senior advisor at Swedenergy, who, like Hermerèn, also saw the Swedish government’s shift towards nuclear energy solutions. Andersson stated the short-term solution, from a Swedish perspective, to be investments into wind power, urging policy makers to be clear on their intentions in the wind power market.
Other major impacts from the war relate to migration, a deteriorating Belarusian economy and security concerns in Georgia. Regarding the latter, Yaroslava Babych, Lead economist at ISET Policy Institute, Georgia, shared the major developments in Georgia post the invasion. While the Georgian economic growth is very strong at 12 percent, it is mainly driven by the influx of Russian money following the migration of about 80 000 Russians to Georgia. This has led to a surge in living costs and an appreciation of the local currency (the Lari) of 12,6 percent which may negatively affect Georgian exports. Additionally, it may trigger tensions given the recent history between the countries and the generally negative attitudes towards Russians in Georgia. Michal Myck, Director at CenEa, Poland, also presented migration as a key challenge. While the in- and outflow of Ukrainian refugees to Poland is today balanced, the majority of those seeking refuge in Poland are women and children and typically not included in the workforce. To ensure successful integration and to avoid massive human capital losses for Ukraine, Myck argued education is key, pointing to the lower school enrollment rates among refugee children living closer to the Ukrainian border. Apart from the challenges posed by the large influx of Ukrainian in the last year, the Polish economy is also hit by high energy prices, fuel shortages and increasing inflation. Lev Lvovskiy, Research fellow at BEROC, Belarus, painted a similar but grimmer picture of the current economic situation in Belarus. Following the invasion, all trade with Ukraine has been cut off, while trade with Russia has increased. Belarus is facing sanctions not only following the war, but also from 2020, and the country is in recession with GDP levels dropping every month since the invasion. Given the political and economic situation, the IT sector has shrunk, companies oriented towards the EU has left the country and real salaries have decreased by 5 percent. At the same time, the policy response is to introduce price controls and press banknotes.
Consequences of War: An Academic Perspective
The later part of the afternoon was kicked off by a brief overview of the FREE Network’s research initiatives on the links between war and certain development indicators. Pamela Campa, Associate Professor at SITE, presented current knowledge on the connection between war and gender, with a focus on gender-based violence. Sexual violence is highly prevalent in armed conflict and has been reported from both sides in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions since 2014 and during the ongoing war, with nearly only Russian soldiers as perpetrators. Apart from the direct threats of sexual violence during ongoing conflict and fleeing women and children risking falling victims to trafficking, intimate partner violence (IPV) has been found to increase post conflict, following increased levels of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While Ukrainian policy reforms have so far strengthened the response to domestic violence there is still a need for more effective criminalization of domestic violence, as the current limit for prosecution is 6 months from the date crime is committed. An effective transitional justice system and expertise on how to support victims of sexual violence in conflict, alongside economic safety measures undertaken to support women and children fleeing, are key policy concepts Campa argued. Coming back to the broader topic of gender and war, Campa highlighted the need for involvement of women in peace talks and negotiations, something research suggests matter for both equality, representativeness, and efficiency.
Providing insights into the relationship between the environment and war, Julius Andersson, Assistant Professor at SITE, initially summarized how climate change may cause conflict along four channels: political instability and crime rates increasing as a consequence of higher temperatures, scarcity of natural resources and environmental migration. Conflict might however also cause environmental degradation in the form of loss of biodiversity, pollution and making land uninhabitable. As for the negative impact from the war in Ukraine, Andersson highlighted how fires from the war has caused deforestation affecting the ecosystems, that rivers in conflict struck areas in Ukraine and the Sea of Azov are being polluted from wrecked industries (including the Azovstal steelworks) and lastly that there is a real threat of radiation given the four major nuclear plants in Ukraine being targeted by Russian forces. Coming back to a topic mentioned earlier during the day, Andersson also emphasized potential conflict spillovers into other parts of the world due to the war’s impact on food and fertilizer prices.
Concluding the session, Jonathan Lehne, Assistant Professor at SITE, reviewed how war and democracy is tied to one another, highlighting that while studies have found that democracies per se are not necessarily less conflict prone, it is still the case that democratic countries almost never fight each other. As for the microlevel takeaways from previous research, it appears as if individuals and communities having experienced violence and casualties actually reap a democratic dividend in some respects, such as greater voting participation. On the other hand, while areas with a large refugee influx also experience an increased voter turnout, voting for right-wing parties also increase with politicians exploiting this in their communication.
Book Launch – Reconstruction of Ukraine: Principles and Policies
The Development Day was also guested by Ilona Sologoub, Scientific Editor at VoxUkraine, Tatyana Deryugina, Associate Professor of Finance at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Torbjörn Becker, Director of SITE, who presented their newly released book “Reconstruction of Ukraine: Principles and policies”. Sologoub started off by giving an overview of the mainly economic topics covered in the book and pointing out that the main purpose of the book is to inform policy makers about the present situation and to suggest needed reforms and investments. Becker outlined the four key principles recommended to stem corruption during reconstruction; 1) Remove opportunities for corruption and rent extraction, 2) Focus on transparency and monitoring of the whole reconstruction effort, 3) Make information and education an integral part of the anti-corruption effort, and 4) Set up legal institutions that are trusted when corruption does occur. Deryugina focused on the energy sector and related back to what had previously been discussed throughout the day, the need to “build-back-better”. Deryugina mentioned that Ukraine, previously heavily reliant on coal and gas imports from Russia, now have the opportunity to steer away from low energy efficiency and bottleneck issues, towards becoming a European natural gas hub. The book is available for free here. There will also be a book launch on the 11th of January 2023 at Handelshögskolan.
Via link from Kiyv, Nataliia Shapoval, Head of KSE Institute and Vice President for Policy Research at Kyiv School of Economics closed the conference by emphasizing the urgency of continued education of Ukrainians in Ukraine and elsewhere to avoid loss of Ukrainian human capital. Shapoval also stressed how universities can act as thinktanks, support policy makers in Ukraine and Europe to come up with effective sanctions against Russia and provide a deeper understanding of the current situation – a situation which will linger and in which Ukraine needs continued full support.
This year’s SITE Development Day conference gave an opportunity to discuss the need for continued support for Ukraine and the implications from the war in a global, European, and Swedish perspective. Representatives from the political, public, private and academic sectors contributed with their insights into the challenges and possibilities at hand, providing greater understanding of how the support can be sustained, with the goal of a soon end to the war and a successful rebuild of Ukraine.
List of Participants in Order of Appearance
- Anders Olofsgård, Deputy Director at SITE
- Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Leader of the Belarusian Democratic Forces
- Johan Forssell, Minister of Foreign Trade and International Development Cooperation
- Andrij Plachotnjuk, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to the Kingdom of Sweden
- Tymofiy Mylovanov, President of the Kyiv School of Economics (on link from Kyiv)
- Yuliya Markuts, Head of the Centre of Public Finance and Governance Analysis, Kyiv School of Economics
- Jean-Erik de Zagon, Head of the Representation to Ukraine at the European Investment Bank
- Cecilia Thorfinn, Team leader of the Communications Unit at the Representation of the European Commission in Sweden
- Fredrik Löjdquist, Centre Director of the Stockholm Centre for Eastern European Studies (SCEEUS)
- Jan Ruth, Deputy Head of the Unit for Europe and Latin America at Sida
- Karin Kronhöffer, Director of Strategy and Communication at Swedfund
- Andreas Flodström, CEO and founder of Beetroot
- Chloé Le Coq, Professor of Economics, University Paris-Pantheon-Assas (CRED) & SITE
- Lars Andersson, Senior advisor at Swedenergy
- Pär Hermerèn, Senior advisor at Jernkontoret
- Ilona Sologoub, VoxUkraine scientific editor (on link)
- Tatyana Deryugina, Associate Professor of Finance at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (on link)
- Torbjörn Becker, Director at SITE
- Michal Myck, Director at CenEa, Poland
- Yaroslava Babych, Lead economist at ISET Policy Institute, Georgia
- Lev Lvovskiy, Research fellow at BEROC, Belarus
- Pamela Campa, Associate Professor at SITE
- Julius Andersson, Assistant Professor at SITE
- Jonathan Lehne, Assistant Professor at SITE
- Nataliia Shapoval, Head of KSE Institute and Vice President for Policy Research at Kyiv School of Economics (on link)
Belarus has faced unprecedented sanctions during the last year and the new economic conditions have led to a GDP decline and inflation growth. At the same time, the situation on the currency market has been stable since April 2022. The Belarusian Ruble demonstrated a gradual appreciation to the US Dollar and the Euro and a decline to the Russian Ruble. The appreciation of the Belarusian Ruble against the US Dollar has given households the illusion that the economic situation is not that bad. This brief analyses the main factors of the current situation on the currency market as well as describes the challenges which might destabilise the market. The importance of changing selected currencies in the currency basket and the start of a reorientation of the Belarusian economy from Western to Eastern partnerships, are also described.
The National Bank of the Republic of Belarus’ Policy on the Currency Market
In Belarus, currency has always played an important role as an indicator of economic stability. Household’s reactions to sharp fluctuations of the Belarusian Ruble have been expressed in an immediate demand growth for foreign currency (US Dollar and Euro mostly). After the war in Ukraine started and the exchange rate of the Belarusian Ruble began declining, people tried to make currency deposits from banks and buy foreign currency. In contrast to the Central Bank of Russia, the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus (NBRB) introduced no restrictions on the currency market. However, Belarusian financial institutions imposed their own limits on carrying out non-cash exchange operations, cash withdrawals from ATMs and from bank accounts. Financial institutions also limited the availability of currencies in exchange offices and imposed limits on payment transactions by credit card outside of Belarus. All these processes took place under the condition of a sharp devaluation of the Russian Ruble.
The dynamics in the Russian Ruble have affected the Belarusian Ruble fluctuation (see Figure 1). The correlation between the currencies was strong even before the war, given that the Russian Federation is a dominant economic partner for Belarus, and has since become stronger.
The share of Russian Ruble in the Belarusian currency basket is at 50 percent. Moreover, in Q1-Q3 2022 the Belarusian dependency on the Russian economy increased in the aftermath of losing the Ukrainian market and facing European export shortages. Between January and August 2022, the share of export of goods to CIS countries (where the main share of exports goes to Russia) was 65,7 percent, as compared to 58,4 percent for the corresponding months in 2021. The same tendencies are apparent when considering the import of goods. The share of import from CIS countries reached 64,7 percent between January and August in 2022, as compared to 61,3 percent for January-August in 2021 (BSCBR, 2022).
Figure 1. The weighted average exchange rate of the Belarusian Ruble, in Belarusian Rubles.
Sanctions and the Russian Central Bank’s policy have led to a stabilisation on the Russian currency market. The Central Bank of Russia has introduced restrictions on capital outflow from the country, limited cash withdrawals from bank accounts and foreign currency purchases in exchange offices (Tinkoff, 2022). The cancelation of budget rule has further supported the Russian Ruble exchange rate. But the main reason for the Russian currency exchange rate reversal post March 2022, relates to the situation regarding foreign trade. Due to sanctions, imports had significantly decreased. At the same time, high energy prices allowed for export growth. Between January and June 2022 Russia displayed a high positive trade balance (169,62 billion USD), the largest in the last 7 years (CBR, 2022). As a result of sanctions, the Central Bank of Russia started to prepare the market to work with currencies of friendly countries.
Similar tendencies can be seen in Belarus. NBRB has changed the composition of the foreign currency trade to turn the Belarusian economy from a Western to an Eastern direction regarding economic cooperation. In July 2022 the Chinese Yen was included in the currency basket. At the same time the share of Russian Ruble was at 50 percent, the US Dollar at 30 percent, the Euro at 10 percent and the Chinese Yen at 10 percent. In August 2022, the NBRB began to define daily exchange rates for the Vietnamese Dong, Brazilian Real, Indian Rupee and UAE Dirham. Finally, since October 2022, the exchange rate for the Qatari Riyal has been defined on a monthly basis (The National Bank of Belarus, 2022). These changes are indicators of ongoing and planned structural changes to the economy to accommodate increased cooperation with the Eastern economies.
Currency Market Stabilisation and Current Risks
The Belarusian Ruble has not repeated the fluctuation of the Russian currency. It did however copy its tendency to appreciate to the US Dollar and the Euro, as of April 2022. Besides the appreciation of the Russian Ruble and personal bank’s restrictions on national currency markets, the stabilisation of the Belarusian Ruble can be explained by the positive trade balance. In contrast to Russia, the growth of net export in Belarus was due to a faster decline of imports than exports. There are several reasons why this can be a problem for currency market stabilisation in the future.
First, Belarus’ foreign trade has become more and more oriented toward the Russian market. If the main trade partner experiences difficulties (for example, oil price caps) this could lead to a devaluation of the Russian Ruble and, as a result, declining competitiveness of Belarusian goods on the Russian market.
Second, reorientation of Belarusian exports from Western to Eastern countries require time and additional financial resources and exports are not always profitable due to high logistical costs. Any additional sanctions may further limit such opportunities.
Third, main export-oriented services, such as the Transport and ICT sectors, are affected by sanctions and their consequences. In Q3 2022, the transport turnover was equal to 68,3 percent, as compared to the same period 2021. The ICT sector is still having a positive impact on GDP growth. However, in January-September 2021 the positive contribution from this sector to the Belarusian GDP was 0,9 percent, while it between January and September 2022 was only 0,2 percent.
Recent success in foreign trade is mostly due to the continuation of selling potash, nitrogen fertilisers and other products on the global market, a strong Russian Ruble and Russian market openness towards Belarusian companies, low levels of Belarusian imports, and cheap Russian gas (the special price for Belarus is 128 US Dollars for 1000 cubic meters). If the terms of trade with Russia worsen and key export-oriented industries suffer from sanctions and reputational risks, the currency market could however be destabilised.
Another problem for the Belarusian Ruble stability in the middle and long term is related to household behaviour. In January-August 2022 Belarusians sold more foreign currency than they bought. Despite the Ruble fluctuation, the high levels of net sales in March was due to bank restrictions. In June, the net purchase was related to seasonal factors (see Figure 2). For the other months of the period the net selling can be explained by a stable situation on the currency market and real incomes declining. People sold currency in an attempt to maintain their previous standards of living.
Figure 2. Balance of purchase and sale of foreign currency by households (+ “net purchase”, – “net sale”), mln. USD.
In September-October 2022 Belarusian households bought more than (an equivalent of) 300 mln. USD on net basis, primarily in USD or Euro, which is very unusual for the Belarusian market situation. There are several possible explanations for such behaviour:
- Despite difficulties with obtaining visas Belarusians are going to Poland and other European countries to shop. Because of sanctions, retaliatory sanctions as well as a high price control on the domestic market, the range of goods has shrunk, and prices have risen. In European countries Belarusians can purchase much cheaper goods both for personal use and for resale.
- Partial mobilisation in Russia has increased the uncertainty of further political steps in Belarus. Households thus purchase foreign currency to establish an extra safety cushion.
- In Q3 2022 there was a net cash outflow on international remittances, for the first time since 2017. Traditionally, Belarus has seen a net inflow of foreign remittances. In 2022 Belarusian banks were switched off from the SWIFT system which incurred problems with operations in foreign currencies for banks under sanctions. As a result, cash inflow has declined (see Figure 3). Cash outflows however remained on the same level as in previous years. This can be explained by high-level specialists and people employed within ICT leaving the country. During relocation people have sold apartments and cars and exchanged accumulated incomes from Belarusian Rubles to US Dollars or Euros and sent to foreign bank accounts (even under the conditions of facing difficulties with conducting money transfers).
Figure 3. Net cash inflow (+)/ outflow (-) for international remittances, USD mln.
Maintaining the trend of net currency purchase together with possible trade balance deterioration may exacerbate the situation on the domestic currency market. Another risk to the currency market stability is posed by the insufficient size of FX reserves (in the amount of less than 3 months of import). Moreover, the 900 mln. US Dollars in reserves, given by the IMF in 2021 as support to fight Covid-19, can’t be used as this financial support is given in the form of SDR (Special Drawing Rights), and the exchange of SDR to US Dollars or other currencies is challenging due to sanctions (Congress, 2022).
At the same time, the Government’s decision to make external debt payments in Belarusian Rubles supports the FX reserves level. It has also been decided that payments on Eurobonds to the Nordic Investment Bank, the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development and the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development are to be paid in Rubles. These decisions have decreased the country’s long-term rating on foreign liabilities to the Restricted Default level. In that sense, short-term gains can lead to significant financial losses in the long term. In the future it will be necessary not only to pay outstanding debts but also to improve Belarus’ reputation on the international financial market. Today, the Russian Federation is the main investor in the Belarusian economy. But since its support is limited, it is likely to be insufficient for the safe functioning of the Belarusian economy.
The stability of the Belarusian currency market is not the result of economic success, but rather a reflection of the tightening of the economy. The appreciation of the Belarusian Ruble to the US Dollar and Euro has taken place during an accelerated reduction in Belarusian imports. At the same time the weakness of the Belarusian currency to the Russian Ruble entails competitiveness of Belarusian products on the Russian market. Foreign exchange reserves, although insufficient, have maintained in size due to the low demand for foreign currency and foreign debt payments in Belarusian Rubles. Disruptions to economic and political relations with Western countries stimulates the Belarusian authorities to reorient the economy towards Eastern partners, which has led to a modification of the currency basket composition. In the long run, the current stability of the Belarusian currency can quickly disappear in case one or several risks are realised. If the Russian Ruble devaluates or trade balance deteriorates and demand for foreign currency increases, the stability of the Belarusian Ruble exchange rate can be ruined.
- Belarusian State Committee of the Republic of Belarus (BSCRB). (2022). Socio- Economic Situation of the Republic of Belarus in January- September 2022. https://www.belstat.gov.by/ofitsialnaya-statistika/publications/izdania/public_bulletin/index_58794/
- The National Bank of the Republic of Belarus. (2022). Statistical Bulletin #9 (279) 2022.
- The National Bank of the Republic of Belarus. (2022). https:// www.nbrb.by
- Tinkoff. (2022). The Central Bank has extended the currency restrictions for six months. https://secrets.tinkoff.ru/novosti/czentrobank-prodlil-valyutnye-ogranicheniya-na-polgoda/
- CBR. (2022). Balance of payments, international investment position and external debt of the Russian Federation in the first half of 2022. http://www.cbr.ru/statistics/macro_itm/svs/p_balance/
- Congress. (2022). H.R. 6899- Russia and Belarus SDR Exchange Prohibition Act of 2022. Public Law No: 117-185 (10/04/2022). https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/6899.
Based on data from two recent waves of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), we demonstrate that the Coronacrisis gave birth to many new necessity-driven entrepreneurs who will likely alleviate the current challenges of unemployment and income losses in the short- and medium-term. The readiness and willingness of Belarusians to become entrepreneurs in a harsh business environment could be considered a good sign for the economy and society. However, such businesses may fail to deliver a positive long-term impact on the economy, while the detrimental consequences of the war in Ukraine undermine the potential and sustainability of growth-driving businesses with international and innovative orientation.
Crises and Entrepreneurial Activity in Belarus
During the past 15 years, the Belarusian economy and, in particular, Belarusian entrepreneurs have experienced several crises of different scopes, nature, and origins (in 2009, 2011, 2015-2016, 2020). During these periods, Belarusian private enterprises responded faster to both negative and positive trends in the economy compared to state-owned firms. This has for instance manifested itself in private sector firms being swifter in decreasing or increasing the size of the work force in recessions or recoveries (IMF, 2019). Stagnating demand also led to deteriorating business opportunities that in turn incited a decrease in the number of both nascent and matured entrepreneurs. In line with Cowling et al. (2015), these circumstances suggest the presence of a procyclical trend in the entrepreneurship development in the country. In the same vein, the period of economic growth brought new entrepreneurs to the market to pursue business opportunities.
However, results from two waves of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), conducted in May-June 2019 and June-July 2021 demonstrate that notwithstanding the Coronacrisis, political unrest, and worsening business climate, the Belarusian economy experienced an influx of entrepreneurs (not necessarily officially registered as a firm or sole proprietor). These findings contribute to the discussion on the motivation, potential, and effectiveness of this wave of entrepreneurs for the economy.
Belarusian Context for Entrepreneurs in 2019-2021
After the 2015-2016 economic crisis, 2019 represented the third consecutive year of moderate economic growth in Belarus. The gradual liberalization of the economic activity, as well as the give-and-take relationship with Eastern-European neighbors and the West, fueled the enthusiasm of Belarusian entrepreneurs, especially in the medium- and high-tech sectors. The year 2019 was supposed to be highly conducive to entrepreneurship. These conditions were captured by the GEM Belarus 2019/2020 (2020).
However, as in most other countries, small businesses were more affected by the pandemic than large enterprises in Belarus. Moreover, many of them were left to fend for themselves in dealing with COVID-related challenges, as only a small portion of enterprises benefitted from state support measures (Marozau et al., 2021). The recovery period was abrupted by the political crisis that broke out after the presidential elections in August 2020. This political unrest resulted in increased pressure on the private sector and NGOs as well as tensions with EU countries and Ukraine. Many famous entrepreneurs were forced to immigrate and re-locate their businesses. Consequently, GEM Belarus 2021/2022 (2022) captured a new reality of the Belarusian entrepreneurial ecosystem.
How the Entrepreneurship Indicators Changed
According to the GEM 2021/22 survey, Belarus experienced an increase in the percentage of the adult population (18-64 years old) involved in all stages of the entrepreneurial process (Figure 1). Nevertheless, the level of the total early-stage entrepreneurial activity (which includes nascent entrepreneurs – up to 3 months old businesses and baby businesses – 4–42 months old) is still lower than one might predict based on the country’s level of economic development (Figure 2).
These positive changes are paradoxical because, according to the survey, Belarusians were not enthusiastic about the opportunities to start a business – respondents reported a high level of fear of business failure, and that the entrepreneurial framework conditions had deteriorated.
Figure 1. Percentage of the adult population involved in the entrepreneurial process
Figure 2. Early-stage entrepreneurship rates and GDP per capita.
Moreover, the GEM survey reveals that the profile of early-stage entrepreneurs changed between 2019 and 2021 – the educational level of early-stage entrepreneurs increased, while their income level followed a negative trend. A plausible explanation for these changes could be that a relatively well-educated part of the population, employed in the sectors that were harshly hit by the pandemic (HoReCa, Sport & Leisure, etc), decided to start a business out of necessity due to wage shrinkages or layoffs. Therefore, neither a low level of opportunity perception nor an aggravating business climate kept them from starting an enterprise.
Support for this argument can be found if we examine the reasons why Belarusians started businesses in 2021 (Figure 3). The shares of both nascent entrepreneurs and owners of baby businesses that report ‘earning a living because jobs are scarce’ increased by about 20 percentage points. This phenomenon, when a depressive market reduces employment opportunities and forces individuals into becoming entrepreneurs, is regarded as necessity-driven entrepreneurship (Gonzalez-Peña et al., 2018).
Figure 3. Reasons to start a business
Keeping in mind that the unit of analysis in the GEM is on the individual and not the enterprise level, we can suggest a cautious hypothesis that the trend in entrepreneurship development in Belarus has changed from being pro-cyclical to countercyclical in the short term.
It is already obvious that the negative impact of the pandemic and political unrest on Belarusian businesses cannot be compared with the devastating effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In this context, the countercyclical trend or, in other words, the readiness and willingness of Belarusians to become entrepreneurs against all odds, could be considered a good sign for the economy and society. However, such necessity-driven entrepreneurs are more focused on achieving a sufficient standard of living than on expansion and innovation. It is known that the growth and innovative orientations of businesses (product and process innovation, activity in technologically intensive sectors) are important predictors of technological change and total factor productivity (Erken et al, 2018). From this perspective, according to the GEM 2021/2022, Belarus is still doing relatively well in terms of impactful early-stage entrepreneurship (international and innovative orientation, growth expectations, and technological intensity). However, businesses with these characteristics are usually led by opportunity-driven entrepreneurs and are more sensitive to changes in the external environment. Therefore, the detrimental consequences of the Russian aggression against Ukraine (difficulties with payments and logistics, export/import restrictions, and tarnished reputation of Belarus) have already undermined the potential and sustainability of most such businesses and jeopardized the socioeconomic development of the country.
So, the answer to the question of whether Belarusian entrepreneurs will be able to reactivate the economy is rather ‘no’. Based on GEM 2021/2022 data, we argue that the augmented entrepreneurial activity rate will plausibly alleviate the problems of unemployment and income losses in the short- and medium-term, but may not have a strong and long-lasting effect on the economy as a whole.
The 2021 wave of the GEM survey has documented an increase in the share of the population involved in the different stages of the entrepreneurial process in Belarus. This, however, appears to be the outcome of the pandemic-related economic crisis, which manifests itself in income losses and layoffs. As a result, the crisis produced new necessity-driven entrepreneurs with vague prospects.
In this regard, policymakers should realize that stimulating self-employment and small-scale entrepreneurship may indeed be a temporary solution to unemployment issues. If this is the aim, the toolkit to support such businesses is well elaborated and accessible to the government (it includes educational & consulting services, easy access to finance, etc.).
As for impactful entrepreneurship, hardly anything can be done by the current government to retain innovative and international business in Belarus against the backdrop of the consequences and global reactions to the war in Ukraine.
- Cowling, M., Liu, W., Ledger, A., & Zhang, N. (2015). “What really happens to small and medium sized enterprises in a global economic recession? UK evidence on sales and job dynamics”, International Small Business Journal, 33(5), 488-513.
- Erken, H., Donselaar, P., & Thurik, R. (2018). “Total factor productivity and the role of entrepreneurship”. The Journal of Technology Transfer, 43(6), 1493-1521.
- GEM Belarus 2019/2020, (2020). “Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Report GEM Belarus 2019/2020”.
- GEM Belarus 2021/2022. (2022). “Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Report GEM Belarus 2021/2022”.
- González-Pernía, J. L., Guerrero, M., Jung, A., & Pena-Legazkue, I. (2018). “Economic recession shake-out and entrepreneurship: Evidence from Spain”. BRQ Business Research Quarterly, 21(3), 153-167
- Hill, S., Ionescu-Somers, A., Coduras, A., Guerrero, M., Roomi, M. A., Bosma, N., … & Shay, J. (2022). “Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2021/2022 Global Report: Opportunity Amid Disruption”.
- IMF. (2019). “Reassessing the Role of State-Owned Enterprises in Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe”, 19/11.
- Marozau, R., Akulava, M., & Panasevich, V. (2021). “Did the Government Help Belarusian SMEs to Survive in 2020?” FREE Network Policy Brief Series.
The eruption of war exposes women to increased gender-based violence, in the immediate conflict area as well as in the countries where they seek refuge. Acknowledging the specific conflict-related risks that women face is important, in order to target interventions, especially considering that the actors that sit at peace negotiation tables are predominantly or exclusively men. In this policy brief, we discuss the implications of conflict for gender-based violence, with a special focus on the ongoing war in Ukraine. We also outline some policy interventions that might help mitigate the risks that women face, holding those responsible to account, and building a more gender-equal society from the reconstruction efforts. Our discussion draws from existing academic literature and inputs from the special panel session on conflict during the FROGEE conference “Economic and Social Context of Domestic Violence”.
Gender-Based Violence During Conflicts
During war, as in peacetime, women are exposed to different forms of violence, and to a different extent, as compared to men. In other words, there are gender-specific aspects of conflict-related violence, both in immediate conflict areas and in the places where affected populations might seek refuge.
One form of violence against women in conflict areas is sexual violence and rapes perpetrated by combatants. Scholars and policy analysts tend to portray this violence as a weapon of war (Eriksson and Stern, 2013), meaning that it is a way of humiliating and demoralizing the enemy as individuals and as communities. Differently put, the narrative that portrays sexual violence as, for instance, the consequence of unmet sexual needs among soldiers is increasingly less accepted. Sexual violence against women perpetrated by armed forces in conflict areas is tragically prevalent. While proper quantification of the phenomenon is hard for obvious reasons, it is estimated for example that at least 500,000 women were raped during the Rwandan genocide, and 50,000 during the war in Bosnia (Guarnieri and Tur-Prats, 2022).
Another form of gender-based violence in conflict is that women who are uprooted by war tend to confront a high risk of sexual violence during their journey away from home and in the places where they seek refuge. Vu et al. (2014) estimate, through meta-analysis, that approximately one in five refugees or displaced women in complex humanitarian settings experienced sexual violence. The study also highlights the need for more data to shed light on the characteristics of perpetrators. The presence of aid workers among them appears to persist through several humanitarian crises (Reis, 2021).
Further, women and children fleeing war areas are vulnerable to the risk of trafficking and exploitation for sexual or other work (as highlighted in the FROGEE conference panel). Traffickers and criminal organizations tend to exploit the combination of a mass movement of people in precarious economic situations and the decreased scrutiny generated by the humanitarian emergency.
Finally, war heightens the risk of intimate partner violence (IPV) in conflict areas as well as among refugees and displaced individuals, by causing stress, trauma, economic hardship and increased substance abuse, all of which lead to deterioration in mental health and the quality of relationships (Conference panel). An actual or perceived sense of impunity can also undermine victims’ propensity to report IPV at such a time. A systematic review of the published literature on gender-based violence in conflict finds that estimated rates of IPV across most studies are much higher than the rates of rape and sexual violence perpetrated outside the home (Stark and Ager, 2011).
The consequences of conflict on IPV can be long-lasting. Evidence from post-genocide Rwanda shows that women who married after the conflict were more likely to be victims of spousal abuse; skewed sex ratios that reduced women’s bargaining power in the marriage market appear to be the relevant channel (La Mattina 2017). Another important factor is posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among veterans: a study of US military personnel shows that assignment to combat in the Global War on Terrorism is associated with higher incidence of domestic violence and lower relationship quality (Cesur and Sabia, 2016). The increased availability of small weapons can also lead to more frequent or more violent instances of domestic abuse (Conference panel).
The War in Ukraine
Reports from the US State Department and Amnesty international document episodes of sexual violence from armed conflict actors in Donetsk and Luhansk since the start of the conflict in 2014 (Amnesty International, 2020). Both Russian and Ukrainian military were involved, speaking to the tragedy that the population close to the “contact area” have witnessed since 2014.
At present, growing evidence is emerging that Ukrainians, especially but not exclusively women and girls, are victims of rape, gang-rape and forced nudity perpetrated by Russian military troops invading the country (United Nations). It is notoriously difficult to collect and verify data and facts on sexual violence during wartime, but these early accounts, and the experience from previous conflicts, call for a high level of scrutiny and readiness to help. Research also suggests some potential factors that aggravate the prevalence of sexual violence in conflict. Guarnieri and Tur-Prats (2020) show that armed actors who hold more gender-unequal norms are more likely to be perpetrators of sexual violence, and that the incidence of sexual violence is highest when the parts in conflict hold gender norms that differ substantially (Guarnieri and Tur-Prats, 2022). Survey data show that the share of people who appear to hold gender-unequal norms in Russia remained high over the years, based on questions on the effectiveness of women and men as political or business leaders (Figures 1 and 2), or the desirability of women earning more than their husbands (not shown).
Figure 1. Men make better political leaders than women do, % agreement
Figure 2. Men make better business executives than women do, % agreement
Evidence on the evolution of norms in Ukraine is more mixed (see Figures 1 and 2). All in all, surveys of gender-role attitudes suggest that gender stereotypes persist in Russian society, but it is not obvious that the prevailing gender norms are starkly different between Russia and Ukraine. On the other hand, attitudes toward IPV in the two countries might be evolving differently, at least among the respective elites, based on the fact that legislation on domestic violence recently changed in opposite direction in the two countries. Specifically, Russia decriminalized minor forms of domestic violence in early 2017. Conversely, Ukraine strengthened the legal response to domestic violence in early 2019, in particular making minor but systematic domestic violence criminally punishable, and extending criminal punishment beyond physical violence to include emotional and economic violence.
As a consequence of the war, almost 13 million Ukrainians have left their homes since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, 2022, according to the United Nations. Almost all of them are women and children, since men and boys aged 18 to 60 are required to stay in Ukraine to defend the country. Women traveling alone with their children, especially when fleeing to foreign countries where they often have no connections, are clearly at risk of assault and exploitation. Such risk is heightened by the exceptional speed of the refugee influx, whereby an impromptu response from the host countries is by necessity reliant on individual independent participation. Private hosts have spontaneously been opening their homes to accommodate for days or even weeks Ukrainians fleeing the war. Proper vetting of these offers is made difficult by the sheer number of people who are being welcomed in bordering countries, for instance Poland, as well as by the exceptional response from private individuals. Within a little more than a month from the start of this crisis there had already been a few episodes of sexual violence against Ukrainian refugees in their host countries (specifically in Poland and Germany).
While the current death toll in the war in Ukraine is unlikely to lead to dramatically skewed sex-ratios, this aspect might become more relevant as events evolve, in light also of the fact that nearly the universe of those who fled the country so far consists of women and children.
Finally, in the post-conflict period, the presence of small weapons, which have been made available to civilians to defend the country, is an additional risk factor for IPV (Conference panel).
What Can Be Done?
Academics, international organizations, activists and female politicians from Ukraine have made specific requests to improve the system of protection and accountability in the face of sexual violence against women living in or fleeing from conflict zones. These suggestions include ensuring that the system of transitional justice that will govern the post-conflict period establishes proper investigation and punishment of every form of sexual violence performed by armed actors during the war. To this end, some steps have already been taken. The UN Resolution in favor of the creation of an International Commission of Inquiry refers explicitly to the need to recognize the gender dimension of violations and abuses.
Beyond the horizon of the war, the safety of Ukrainian women in their homes relies on the protection offered by State legislation against domestic violence. In this respect, the Ukrainian government has recently taken a few measures in what the international community deems to be the “right direction”. A very important reform taken in the summer of 2021 allows for the military to be prosecuted for domestic violence on a general basis rather than on the basis of the disciplinary statute as it was before. This is especially important in light of the findings of increased risk of domestic violence in families of veterans (Cesur and Sabia, 2016). However, some critical aspects remain. In the current context, a crucial factor might be the limit of 6 months to prosecute the crime from the occurrence of the violence. An extension of such a period at a time when the normal functioning of many institutions is suspended or subject to delays can attenuate the perception of impunity that the exceptionality of the circumstances creates.
When it comes to refugees, there is as mentioned a need for better vetting of private hosts, although the urgency of action that the current circumstances require makes this a particularly challenging task. State effort in this direction has been complemented by civil society initiatives. For example, in Sweden, Facebook groups that lined up to coordinate the offer of housing are now organizing themselves to create a system for verifying housing and hosts.
Ukrainian politicians have also asked Western countries to be prepared to offer expertise on how to support survivors of rape and other sexual violence in conflict.
Other experts recommend reliance on cultural and linguistic mediators to help refugee women access services for victims of IPV that are already offered by local actors in their temporary host country (Conference panel).
In the longer term, guaranteeing economic safety for refugees is also an effective measure to reduce their vulnerability to exploitation from sex-traffickers and criminal organizations.
Finally, yet importantly, the involvement of women in peace negotiation processes should be sought after. Echoing the discussion on women’s scarcity in leadership positions in peacetime, the gender-unequal composition of peace delegations poses an issue of equality, representativeness, and efficiency (Bertrand 2018). Interestingly, it has been noted that a more truthful narrative of war, which recognizes women’s role not only as victims but also as perpetrators (and the converse for men, although proportions are clearly unbalanced in both cases), might help pave the way for higher female representation at negotiation tables (Conference panel). Relatedly, the European Institute for Gender Equality proposes gender mainstreaming of all policies and programs involved in conflict resolution processes (EIGE). The international community should also consider gender mainstreaming of reconstruction programs, to help build a more gender-equal post-conflict Ukraine.
- Amnesty International. (2020). Not a Private Matter. Domestic and Sexual Violence against Women in Eastern Ukraine.
- Baaz, M. E., and Stern, M. (2013). Sexual violence as a weapon of war?: Perceptions, prescriptions, problems in the Congo and beyond. Bloomsbury Publishing.
- Bertrand, M. (2018). Coase lecture–the glass ceiling. Economica, 85(338), 205-231.
- Cesur, R., and Sabia, J. J. (2016). When war comes home: The effect of combat service on domestic violence. Review of Economics and Statistics, 98(2), 209-225.
- Guarnieri, E., and Tur-Prats, A. (2022). Cultural distance and conflict-related sexual violence. Mimeo
- Reis, C. (2021). Sexual abuse during humanitarian operations still happens. What must be done to end it. The Conversation, October 5 2021. https://theconversation.com/sexual-abuse-during-humanitarian-operations-still-happens-what-must-be-done-to-end-it-169223
- Stark, L. and Ager, A. (2011). A systematic review of prevalence studies of gender-based violence in complex emergencies. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 12(3), pp.127-134.
- Vu, A., Adam, A., Wirtz, A., Pham, K., Rubenstein, L., Glass, N., Beyrer, C. and Singh, S. (2014). The prevalence of sexual violence among female refugees in complex humanitarian emergencies: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS currents, 6.
Policymakers in Europe are currently faced with the difficult task of reducing our reliance on Russian oil and gas without worsening the situation for firms and households that are struggling with high energy prices. The two options available are either to substitute fossil fuel imports from Russia with imports from other countries and cut energy tax rates to reduce the impacts on firms and household budgets, or to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels entirely by investing heavily in low-carbon energy production. In this policy brief, we argue that policymakers need to also take the climate crisis into account, and avoid making short-term decisions that risk making the low-carbon transition more challenging. The current energy crisis and the climate crisis cannot be treated as two separate issues, as the decisions made today will impact future energy and climate policies. To exemplify how large-scale energy policy reforms may have long-term consequences, we look at historical examples from France, the UK, and Germany, and the lessons we can learn to help guide us in the current situation.
The war in Ukraine and the subsequent sanctions against Russia have led to a sharp increase in energy prices in the EU since the end of February 2022. This price increase came after a year when global energy prices had already surged. For instance, import prices for energy more than doubled in the EU during 2021 due to an unusually cold winter and hot summer, as well as the global economic recovery following the pandemic and multiple supply chain issues. Figure 1 shows that the price of natural gas traded in the European Union has increased steadily since the summer of 2021, with a strong hike in March 2022 following the beginning of the war.
Figure 1. Evolution of EU gas prices, July 2021-May 2022
Concerns about energy dependency, towards Russian gas in particular, are now high on national and EU political agendas. An embargo on imports of Russian oil and gas into the EU is currently discussed, but European governments are worried about the effects on domestic energy prices, and the economic impact and social unrest that could follow. Multiple economic analyses argue, however, that the economic effect in the EU of an embargo on Russian oil and gas would be far from catastrophic, with estimated reductions in GDP ranging from 1.2-2.2 percent. But a reduction in the supply of fossil fuels from Russia would need to be compensated with energy from other sources, and possibly supplemented with demand reductions.
In parallel, on April 4th, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a new report on climate change. One chapter analyses different energy scenarios, and finds that all scenarios that are compatible with keeping the global temperature increase below 2°C involve a strong decrease in the use of all fossil fuels (Dhakal et al, 2022). This reduction in fossil fuel usage over the coming decades is illustrated in red in Figure 2.
It is thus important that, while EU countries try to decrease their dependency on Russian fossil fuels and cushion the effect of energy-related price increases, they also accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy. And how they manage to balance these short- and long-run objectives will depend on the energy policy decisions they make. For instance, if policymakers substitute Russian oil and gas with increased coal usage and new import terminals for LNG, this can lead to a “carbon lock in” and make the low-carbon transition more challenging. In this policy brief, we analyze what lessons can be drawn from past historical events that lead to large-scale structural changes in energy policy. Events that all shaped our current energy systems and conditions for climate policy.
Figure 2. Four energy scenarios compatible with a 2°C temperature increase by 2100.
Structural Changes in Energy Policy in France, the UK, and Germany
We focus on three “energy policy turning points” triggered by three geopolitical, political or environmental crises: the French nuclear plan triggered by the 1973 oil crisis; the UK early closure of coal mines and the subsequent dash for gas in the 1990s, influenced by the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979; and the German nuclear phase-out triggered by the 2011 Fukushima catastrophe.
In response to the global oil price shock of 1973, France adopted the “Messmer plan”. The aim was to rapidly transition the country away from dependence on imported oil by building enough nuclear capacity to meet all the country’s electricity needs. Two slogans summarised its goals: “all electric, all nuclear”, and “in France, we may not have oil, but we have ideas” (Hecht 2009). The first commissioned plants came online in 1980, and between 1979-1988 the number of reactors in operation in France increased from 16 to 55. As a consequence, the share of nuclear power in the total electricity production rose from 8 to 80 percent, while the share of fossil fuels fell from 65 to 8 percent.
Figure 3. French electricity mix
In the UK, the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 opened the way for large market-based reform of the energy sector. Thatcher’s plan to close dozens of coal pits triggered a year-long coal miners’ strike in 1984-85. The ruling Conservative party eventually won against the miners’ unions and the coal industry was deeply restructured, with a decrease in domestic employment – not without social costs (Aragon et al, 2018) – and an increase in coal imports. At the same time, the electricity market’s liberalization in the 1990s facilitated the development of gas infrastructure. As an indirect and unintended consequence, when climate change became a prominent issue at the global level in the 2000s, there was no strong pro-coal coalition left in the UK (Rentier et al, 2019). Aided by a portfolio of policies making coal-fired electricity more expensive – a carbon tax in particular – the coal phase-out was relatively easy and fast (Wilson and Staffel, 2018, Leroutier 2022): between 2012 and 2020, the share of coal in the electricity production dropped from 40 to 2 percent.
In 2011, the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe in Japan triggered an early and unexpected phase-out of nuclear energy in Germany. The 2011 “Energiewende” (energy transition) mandated a phase-out of nuclear power plants by 2022, while including provisions to reduce the share of fossil fuel from over 80 percent in 2011 to 20 percent in 2050. The share of nuclear energy in the electricity production in Germany was halved in a decade, from 22 percent in 2010 to 11 percent in 2020. At the same time, the share of renewable energy increased from 13 to 36 percent, and that of natural gas from 14 to 17 percent.
In these three examples, climate objectives were never the main driver of the decision. Nevertheless, in the case of France and the UK, the crisis resulted in an energy sector that is arguably more low-carbon than it would have been without the crisis. Although the German nuclear phase-out was accompanied by large subsidies to renewable energies, its effect on the energy transition is ambiguous: some argue that the reduction in nuclear electricity production was primarily offset by an increase in coal-fired production (Jarvis et al, 2022).
The three crises also had different consequences in terms of dependence on fossil fuel imports. The French nuclear plan resulted in an arguably lower energy dependency on imported fossil fuels. The closure of coal mines in the UK had ambiguous effects on energy security, with an increase in coal imports and the use of domestic gas from the North Sea. Finally, Germany’s nuclear phase-out, combined with the objective of phasing out coal, has been associated with an increase in the use of fossil fuels from Russia: gas imports remained stable between 2011 and 2020, but the share coming from Russia increased by 60 percent over the period. In 2020, Russia stood for 66 percent of German gas imports (Source: Eurostat). Which brings us back to the current war in Ukraine.
The Current Crisis is Different
The context in which the current energy crisis is unfolding is different from the three above-mentioned events in two important ways.
First, scientific evidence on the relationship between fossil fuel use, CO2 emissions and climate damages has never been clearer: we know quite precisely where the planet is heading if we do not drastically reduce fossil fuel use in the coming decade. From recent research in economics, we also know that price signals work and that increased prices on fossil fuels result in lower demand and emission reductions (Andersson 2019; Colmer et al. 2020; Leroutier 2022). High fuel prices can also have long-term impacts on consumption patterns: US commuters that came of driving age during the oil prices of the 70s, when gasoline prices were high, still drive less today (Severen and van Benthem, 2022). The other way around, low fossil fuel prices have the potential to lock in energy-intensive production: plants that open when electricity and fossil fuel prices are low have been found to consume more energy throughout their lifetime, regardless of current prices (Hawkins-Pierot and Wagner, 2022).
Second, alternatives to fossil fuels have never been cheaper. It is most obvious in the case of electricity production, where technological progress and economies of scale have led to a sharp decrease in the cost of renewable compared to fossil fuel technologies. As shown in Figure 4, between 2010 and 2020 the cost of producing electricity from solar PV has decreased by 85 percent and that of producing electricity from wind by 68 percent. From being the most expensive technologies in 2010, solar PV and wind are now the cheapest. Given the intermittency of these technologies, managing the transition to renewables requires developing electricity storage technologies. Here too, prices are expected to decrease: total installed costs for battery electricity storage systems could decrease by 50 to 60 percent by 2030 according to the International Renewable Agency.
Finding alternatives to fossil fuels has historically been more challenging in the transport sector. However, recent reductions in battery costs, and an increase in the variety of electric vehicles available to customers, have led to EVs taking market share away from gasoline and diesel-powered cars in Europe and elsewhere. The costs of the battery packs that go into electric vehicles have fallen, on average, by 89 percent in real terms from 2010 to 2021.
Figure 4. Evolution of the Mean Levelised Cost of Energy by Technology in the US
Options for Policy-Makers
Faced with a strong increase in fossil fuel prices and an incentive to reduce our reliance on oil and gas from Russia, policy-makers have two options: increase the availability and decrease the price of low-carbon substitutes – by, for example, building more renewable energy capacity and subsidizing electric vehicles – or cut taxes on fossil fuels and increase their supply, both domestically and from other countries.
Governments have pursued both options so far. On the one hand, the Netherlands, the UK, and Italy announced an expansion of wind capacities compared to what was planned, in an attempt to reduce their dependence on Russian gas, and France ended gas heaters subsidies. On the other hand, half of EU member states have cut fuel taxes for a total cost of €9 billion by the end of March 2022, the UK plans to expand oil and gas drilling in the North Sea, and Italy might re-open coal-fired plants.
To guide policymakers faced with the current energy crisis, there are valuable lessons to draw from the experiences of energy policy reform in France, the UK and Germany. France’s push for nuclear energy in the 1970s shows that large-scale structural reform of electricity and heat production is possible and may lead to large drops in CO2 emissions and an economy less dependent on domestic or foreign supplies of fossil fuels. A similar “Messmer plan” could be implemented in the EU today, with the goal of replacing power plants using coal and natural gas with large-scale solar PV parks, wind farms and batteries for storage. Similarly, the German experience shows the potential danger of implementing a policy to alleviate one concern – the risk of nuclear accidents – with the consequence of facing a different concern later on – the dependence on fossil fuel imports.
One additional challenge is that the current energy crisis calls for a short-term response, while investments in low-carbon technologies made today will only deliver in a few years. Short-term energy demand reduction policies can help, on top of long-term energy efficiency measures. For example, a 1°C decrease in the temperature of buildings heated with gas would decrease gas use by 10 billion cubic meters a year in Europe, that is, 7 percent of imports from Russia. Similarly, demand-side policies could reduce oil demand by 6 percent in four months, according to the International Energy Agency.
Ending the reliance on Russian fossil fuels and alleviating energy costs for firms and households is clearly an important objective for policymakers. However, by signing new long-term supply agreements for natural gas and cutting energy taxes, policymakers in the EU may create a carbon lock-in and increase fossil fuel usage by households, thereby making the inevitable low-carbon transition even more difficult. The solutions thus need to take the looming climate crisis into account. For example, any tax relief or increased domestic fossil fuel generation should have a clear time limit; more generally, all policies decided today should be evaluated in terms of their contribution to domestic and European climate objectives. In this way, the current energy crisis is not only a challenge but also a historic opportunity to accelerate the low-carbon transition.
- Andersson, Julius J. 2019. “Carbon Taxes and CO2 Emissions: Sweden as a Case Study.” American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, 11(4): 1-30.
- Aragón, F. M., Rud, J. P., & Toews, G. 2018. “Resource shocks, employment, and gender: Evidence from the collapse of the UK coal industry.” Labour Economics, 52, 54–67. doi: 10.1016/j.labeco.2018.03.007
- Colmer, Jonathan, et al. 2020. “Does pricing carbon mitigate climate change? Firm-level evidence from the European Union emissions trading scheme.” Centre for Economic Performance Discussion Paper, No. 1728, November 2020.
- Dhakal, S., J.C. Minx, F.L. Toth, A. Abdel-Aziz, M.J. Figueroa Meza, K. Hubacek, I.G.C. Jonckheere, Yong-Gun Kim, G.F. Nemet, S. Pachauri, X.C. Tan, T. Wiedmann, 2022: Emissions Trends and Drivers. In IPCC, 2022: Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [P.R. Shukla, J. Skea, R. Slade, A. Al Khourdajie, R. van Diemen, D. McCollum, M. Pathak, S. Some, P. Vyas, R. Fradera, M. Belkacemi, A. Hasija, G. Lisboa, S. Luz, J. Malley, (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK and New York, NY, USA. doi: 10.1017/9781009157926.004
- IPCC. 2022. Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [P.R. Shukla, J. Skea, R. Slade, A. Al hourdajie, R. van Diemen, D. McCollum, M. Pathak, S. Some, P. Vyas, R. Fradera, M. Belkacemi, A. Hasija, G. Lisboa, S. Luz, J. Malley, (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK and New York, NY, USA. doi: 10.1017/9781009157926
- Hawkins-Pierot, J & Wagner, K. 2022, “Technology Lock-In and Optimal Carbon Pricing,” Working Paper
- Hecht, Gabrielle. 2009. The Radiance of France: Nuclear Power and National Identity after World War II. MIT press.
- Jarvis, S., Deschenes, O., & Jha, A. 2022. “The Private and External Costs of Germany’s Nuclear Phase-Out.” Journal of the European Economic Association, jvac007. doi: 10.1093/jeea/jvac007
- Leroutier, M. 2022. “Carbon pricing and power sector decarbonization: Evidence from the UK.” Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 111, 102580. doi: 10.1016/j.jeem.2021.102580
- Le Coq, C & Paltseva,E. 2022. “What does the Gas Crisis Reveal About European Energy Security?” FREE Policy Brief
- Rentier, G., Lelieveldt, H., & Kramer, G. J. 2019. “Varieties of coal-fired power phase-out across Europe.” Energy Policy, 132, 620–632. doi: 10.1016/j.enpol.2019.05.042
- Severen, C., & van Benthem, A. A. (2022). “Formative Experiences and the Price of Gasoline.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 14(2), 256–84. doi: 10.1257/app.20200407 :
- Wilson, I.A.G., Staffell, I., 2018. “Rapid fuel switching from coal to natural gas through effective carbon pricing.” Nature Energy 3 (5), 365–372.
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.
- Afesorgbor, S. K. (2019). The impact of economic sanctions on international trade: How do threatened sanctions compare with imposed sanctions?. European Journal of Political Economy, 56, 11-26.
- Afesorgbor, S. K., & Mahadevan, R. (2016). The impact of economic sanctions on income inequality of target states. World Development, 83, 1-11.
- Crozet, M., & Hinz, J. (2020). Friendly fire: The trade impact of the Russia sanctions and counter-sanctions. Economic Policy, 35(101), 97-146.
- Dreger, C., Kholodilin, K. A., Ulbricht, D., & Fidrmuc, J. (2016). Between the hammer and the anvil: The impact of economic sanctions and oil prices on Russia’s ruble. Journal of Comparative Economics, 44(2), 295-308.
- Drury, A. Cooper and Dursun Peksen. “Women and economic statecraft: The negative impact international economic sanctions visit on women.” European Journal of International Relations 20 (2014): 463 – 490.
- Early, B., & Peksen, D. (2019). Searching in the shadows: The impact of economic sanctions on informal economies. Political Research Quarterly, 72(4), 821-834.
- Farzanegan, Mohammad Reza. (2019). “The Effects of International Sanctions on Military Spending of Iran: A Synthetic Control Analysis.” Organizations & Markets: Policies & Processes eJournal .
- Gharehgozli, O. (2017). An estimation of the economic cost of recent sanctions on Iran using the synthetic control method. Economics Letters, 157, 141-144.
- Gurvich E., Prilepskiy I. (2016). The impact of financial sanctions on the Russian economy. Voprosy Ekonomiki. ;(1):5-35. (In Russ.) https://doi.org/10.32609/0042-8736-2016-1-5-35
- Gutmann, J., Neuenkirch, M., and Neumeier, F., 2021. ”The Economic Effects of International Sanctions: An Event Study” CESifo Working Paper No. 9007
- Kaempfer, W. H., & Lowenberg, A. D. (1988). The theory of international economic sanctions: A public choice approach. The American Economic Review, 78(4), 786-793.
- Kholodilin, Konstantin A. and Netsunajev, Aleksei. (2016) Crimea and Punishment: The Impact of Sanctions on Russian and European Economies. DIW Berlin Discussion Paper No. 1569, SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2768622
- Kwon, O., Syropoulos, C., & Yotov, Y. V. (2020). Pain and Gain: The Short-and Long-run Effects of Economic Sanctions on Growth. Manuscript.
- Neuenkirch, M., & Neumeier, F. (2015). The impact of UN and US economic sanctions on GDP growth. European Journal of Political Economy, 40, 110-125.
- Torbat, A. E. (2005). Impacts of the US trade and financial sanctions on Iran. World Economy, 28(3), 407-434.
- World Bank. (2022). “War in the Region” Europe and Central Asia Economic Update (Spring), Washington, DC: World Bank.