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Greenpeace protest against Russian oil tanker in the Baltic Sea (2022)

Photo: Will Rose / dpa

When Europeans ask themselves these days why their sanctions against Russia are not having the desired effect, they tend to blame a group of Putin-friendly emerging countries.

China supplies Moscow with communications technology and microelectronics.

Turkey is passing on Western high technology to the Kremlin.

India buys Russian oil on a large scale in order to sell it on the world market at a premium.

An axis of evil, so the narrative goes, is undermining the European sanctions community.

In fact, it is currently difficult to claim that Brussels is on the offensive in the economic war with the Kremlin.

While the Russian economy is growing by almost two percent, Germany is in recession.

Despite the gas embargo and oil price cap, Putin is filling his war chest with income from his flourishing energy business.

And the Russian drones that Moscow uses to attack Ukraine every day contain masses of components from Western technology companies from Intel to Texas Instruments.

It seems that it is not General Winter who is Moscow's most reliable war support, but rather the global trade in goods.

The EU states are fighting for exceptions and privileges

Of course, not only Putin's secret aides in Beijing, Ankara and Delhi are responsible for this, but also his declared main opponents in the West.

When it comes to the sanctions against Moscow, the “European unity” that EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks of turns out to be more of a joint withdrawal movement.

The confederation of states has now adopted twelve packages of measures against Moscow.

But when it comes to implementation, those in power fight doggedly for exceptions, special rules and privileges.

They only agree almost 100 percent on one thing: the fight against Putin is best carried out by the other.

Emmanuel Macron, for example, has no problem calling for more European solidarity and additional investment against Moscow at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, but doing the opposite at home in Paris.

To date, France's financial aid to Ukraine is not even a tenth of the German level.

At the same time, despite all of Moscow's nuclear threats, Paris is cooperating closely with the Russian nuclear energy company Rosatom.

The Russian-French nuclear brotherhood is not only reflected in a joint fuel element production in Lingen, Rhineland.

But also in the fact that France increased imports of Russian nuclear products by around 250 percent in 2022 alone, according to studies by non-governmental organizations.

Is it any wonder that the Élysée Palace has already nipped in the bud any attempt to add nuclear energy to the Brussels sanctions list?

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is seen as the new leading figure of the European conservatives;

But this can hardly have anything to do with his sanctions policy against Moscow.

Under pressure from its diplomats in Brussels, the EU is doing little against the influential Greek shipowners who sell their tankers to Moscow's so-called shadow fleet.

With it, Russia easily circumvents the oil price cap with which the West wanted to dry up the Kremlin's most important source of income.

Olaf Scholz promises that Germany will do everything necessary to support Ukraine in the fight against Putin.

What the Chancellor apparently does not include are measures against the gray export of sanctioned high technology to Russia.

Statistics show that direct exports of German machines, engines or aircraft parts to Putin's empire have plummeted.

In return, the Federal Republic delivers even more goods to Central Asian countries such as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan or Armenia, from where they are forwarded to Moscow or Saint Petersburg.

The EU authorities have known about the alternative routes for months.

But to this day Brussels has been searching in vain for a remedy against Putin's illegal technology transfer.

When Moscow launched its so-called military operation against Ukraine, the Europeans, shocked by the attack, quickly launched one package of measures after another.

And the “severest sanctions the world has ever seen” (von der Leyen) had an effect: Russia's defense industry suddenly lacked Western high-tech goods.

The oil and gas industry temporarily lost revenue.

But the longer the war lasted, the more the will for common European resistance gave way to small-minded haggling for national advantages.

While one government had implemented a special rule for agriculture, the other demanded an exception for the energy sector.

At times it seemed less about defending Moscow than about competitive advantages in Europe.

The EU has the larger reserves – it just has to use them

Take steel, for example: While the EU imposed a far-reaching embargo against Russia, the Belgian government implemented a lucrative exception for its factories in Wallonia.

To the detriment of the European competitors and to the benefit of Putin, who is allowed to continue to bolster one of his war-important industries with European money.

Bulgaria used a special rule for its energy sector to funnel Russian oil onto European markets on a large scale.

Estimated additional income for the Kremlin: at least one billion euros.

If it is true that the conflict between Moscow and Kiev is heading towards a war of attrition, things cannot continue like this.

To put the Kremlin on the defensive, the Europeans must increase their arms production while weakening Putin's economic base.

Quick successes are unlikely to be achieved against a state that has valuable natural resources and – after China – the longest land border in the world.

It would be all the more important to prepare for a long-term confrontation with the Kremlin, similar to what happened in the Cold War.

There is currently no consistent plan for this, just a few suggestions: The Europeans should impose fewer sanctions but control them better, especially when it comes to military material.

The oil price cap should be better monitored and accompanied by an energy policy with which the EU reduces its demand for fossil fuels.

Above all, those in power should honestly tell their citizens that the conflict with Moscow has costs.

Anyone who wants to weaken the Kremlin economically and increase their own defense spending must neither declare the social budget sacrosanct (as the Social Democrats do) nor make reducing the national debt a political priority (as the FDP wants).

However, the traffic light government's program of trying to do both at the same time is doomed to failure.

In the conflict with Russia, Europe has greater economic reserves.

You just have to use them.