As the US and Europe sanction Russia, Texas leaders encourage symbolic responses to Ukraine invasion

Although it is not likely to add economic pressure, the governor’s symbolic call to voluntarily remove Russian products still carries importance, according to a former foreign affairs analyst.

By Rhonda Fanning & Addie CostelloFebruary 28, 2022 1:50 pm, ,

In response to Russia’s continuing invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. placed additional sanctions on Russia’s central bank, on Monday. The new sanction will freeze the banks’ assets within the U.S. and prohibit U.S. citizens from doing business with the bank.

Along with a series of sanctions levied by individual countries, NATO has activated its Response Force for the first time, as a defense measure against Russia. The Response Force will not send troops into Ukraine, only bolster a defense in surrounding allied countries and pressure Russia to begin negotiations.

In Texas, officials have called for a more symbolic removal of Russian products from retailers and restaurants.

David Lektizian, associate professor of political science at Texas Tech University, served as a fellow and analyst on the Council on Foreign Relations in the Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade Division of the Congressional Research Service. He spoke with the Standard about sanctions and the role symbolic boycotts could play. Listen to the interview in the audio player above or read the transcript below.

This interview has been edited lightly for clarity.

Texas Standard: We’re hearing news that the Biden administration is cutting off Russia’s central bank from U.S. dollar transactions. How big of a deal is that and why wasn’t it done last week?

David Lekitizian: Well, I think that’s definitely going to impose additional costs onto Russia. Although, I don’t really believe that it’s going to have any effect in terms of changing Vladimir Putin’s calculus or causing him to back down on the attack that he’s conducting. I think he’s probably already figured all of this in. I mean, Russia is familiar with the Western sanctions playbook. I think that they anticipated these acts, but it’s definitely an entirely appropriate response because these will put costs on and help to deter the ability of the Russian military to wage its warfare.

We’ve heard over the weekend that nations were cutting key Russian banks out of the SWIFT financial transaction system. What does that mean, exactly? 

That’s a system that allows banks to communicate with each other. This is something that the U.S. has done in the past in Iran. It’s something that we did not do after the 2014 invasion in Crimea. Although I’m sure since Russia has initiated this conflict on their own timeline, that they are thinking about these types of responses and playing this out ,sort of gaming it out what the Western response could possibly be. And this is definitely something on the table, as well as something like Nord Stream 2 — although these have really big costs to Europe and the rest of the world when these types of actions are taken.

Germany has already said there’s going to be a pause in Nord Stream 2, right? Is it correct that they’ve refused to move forward with any further approvals?

Right. And President Biden also made it very clear that if Russia were to invade — and he said this before the invasion — the U.S. would do everything that it could to stop Nord Stream 2. This is a big blow, but it’s also a big blow to Europe. So, it helps to show Europe’s resolve in getting the conflict resolved on our own ground.

On a more local level, Texas Governor Abbott has asked the Texas Restaurant Association, the Texas Package Stores Association and Texas retailers voluntarily remove all Russian products from their shelves. And I’ve seen other local and state officials making similar declarations. This is mostly symbolic but could they create additional economic pressures on Russia? 

Yeah, I think there’s a lot of symbolic tools that we’re using. Like, calling the General Assembly meeting, things to show the condemnation and that this isn’t appropriate behavior and that it’s not accepted. It’s probably not going to have a really big economic impact but I think these things — in terms of taking the moral high ground and showing that people are not okay, that this is a violation of international norms — I think these types of steps are really important.

The Moscow Stock Exchange is not open again today and Russian currency is plummeting – safe to say these sanctions are working. How do you see it?

Well the intent, I think, is to try to target Vladimir Putin and the elite in Russia. The problem is, these things always filter down, and a lot of the cost is borne by the regular citizens because as the stock market plummets, as you attack the elite, inflation rises. As you do things like cutting off foreign currency exchange markets and stock markets, inflation rises, prices rise and you end up hurting people who you weren’t intending to hurt. The goal is to try to get the cost really high onto Vladimir Putin and his group. High enough to force them to change their policy and maybe come to the bargaining table and accept some type of offer that’s given to them by the West. 

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