London People's Assembly protest London People's Assembly protest. Photo: Steve Eason / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0, license linked below article

As the cost of living crisis worsens, public opinion turning against sanctions on Russia should be channelled into active anti-war organising, writes Terina Hine

The war in Ukraine has clearly had an impact on the cost of living and energy prices here in the UK, and although not the only contributor to the dire economic position we are in, as long as the war goes on, the energy crisis will continue to bite.

Global supply chain difficulties, a cold winter in the northern hemisphere and higher than expected gas use as countries recovered from Covid all played their part in the cost of living crisis, and here in the UK the Truss government’s disastrous economic ‘growth plan’ helped make a bad situation worse. But it is the sanctions the west imposed in the early days of the war that turbo charged the crisis.

Almost everywhere the price of energy and food has risen rapidly, causing serious hardship, especially for the poor.

In the early days of the war the sanctions on Russia resulted in major reductions in the supply of gas, oil and grain supplies. Russia provided 40% of the EU’s gas in 2021. In the UK only 4% of gas was imported from Russia, but declining international supplies and increasing international demand led to price rises in the global market which were passed on to consumers everywhere.

The sanctions, aimed at weakening Russia have caused misery for millions way beyond the Russian borders.

Food shortages in the global south, energy shortages in much of Europe and massive increases in global oil and gas prices have all taken their toll. And as the days get shorter and colder in the UK the impact is being felt more widely.

It is therefore unsurprising that support for sanctions has seen a dramatic decline this autumn. Back in March, 73% of the British public said they supported sanctions, regardless of the impact on energy prices or the cost of living. The government were quick to play on this willingness of the public to make financial sacrifices for Ukraine. It gave them the perfect cover for every economic bad news story, it excused their own policy failures and enabled them to shield profiteering energy firms.

But it seems that the government may have overplayed their hand. By October 31 an Ipsos survey for Sky News revealed that only 41% of Britons said they would continue to support sanctions on Russia if the cost-of-living crisis were to get worse. This is a dramatic fall from the 73% willing to make themselves poorer in March.

As war-inflated energy bills drop on our doormats, almost a third of those surveyed (32%) said they would oppose sanctions if further increases in energy prices were the result.

This is not an isolated survey. The decline in support for sanctions was also noted in a YouGov poll on 22 September. Pollsters asked if people would want to retain the sanctions currently in place if it would mean either a further increase in the cost of living, higher energy bills, higher taxes, or oil or gas shortages. The response: support for sanctions dropped (from 73% in March) to 40-46%, with between 36% and 42% actively opposing continuing sanctions.

The general public are not alone in discovering the hard way that sanctions do not work. The west has a track record of unsuccessfully using sanctions to break governments from Iraq and Iran to Venezuela. In Russia’s case, since export sanctions were imposed on oil and gas, revenue has increased, with raised prices more than offsetting the decline in exports.

In May 2022, Russia earned 883 million euros per day from oil exports, up from 633 million euros per day in May 2021. Russia is now China’s biggest supplier of oil and is rapidly increasing its supply of gas; with a new pipeline under construction Russia may well become China’s biggest supplier of gas before the end of the decade. India’s imports of Russian oil have also rocketed.

As a tool in war sanctions have proved repeatedly ineffectual; those who suffer the most are always civilians. In Russia’s case western sanctions have failed to force Putin out of Ukraine, and are unlikely to cause the regime change many hoped. Instead they are causing increasing hardship for millions of ordinary people, here in Britain and around the world.

As the cold nights draw in and tensions rise between two nuclear armed powers, the anti-war movement must help turn the growing antipathy to sanctions into more active opposition to Britain’s support for the war. Our government intends to raise military spending by an extra £50 billion before the end of the decade, this money will be diverted from the exchequer, paid for with cuts to welfare, the NHS and public services. Just as with sanctions, it is always working people who suffer from wars.

Join Stop the War on the Welfare not Warfare bloc on the People’s Assembly’s demonstration on 5 November.

Reposted from Stop the War

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