By Their Actions

BY ALEX STORY

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has revealed a great deal. The West can bark but lost, seemingly, much of its teeth.

The alliance, whatever that means, is strong on words but feeble in deeds.

And it is, as the Good Book reminds us, “by their deeds” that “you shall know them”.

We have wagged our finger at the Russian Bear with gusto, threatening her with enforced hibernation as winter turned to spring.

From the high pulpit of righteousness, the leaders of the civilised world decried the invasion to the top of their lungs, announced sanctions in lockstep but imposed them with extreme reluctance.

In doing so, they exposed the brittle nature of their own ethical standards.

While our leaders sang all summer long to the soul-breaking and arrhythmic tunes of General Wokery, working on the assumption that the international climate would remain clement for evermore, Russia focused on a core concept: Humanity needs raw materials above all else.

By invading Ukraine, Russia changed the seasons. 

Caught uncovered, the West shrunk to the United States and the United Kingdom, with Canada playing, through Justin Trudeau, a slightly embarrassing cameo.

We imposed sanctions. Terrible sanctions, which would cripple Russia for years to come we warned.

Indeed, 141 countries voted against Russia at the United Nations only a few weeks ago.

Quite rightly, they demanded an end to Russian “aggression against Ukraine” and demanded “the immediate and complete withdrawal of all Russian forces from Ukrainian territory”.

However, a very meaningful 39 countries either abstained or sided with Russia. These included China, India and Pakistan to name but a few.

Looking at the list, most of the Asian continental landmass, representing close to half of the world’s population, refrained from lambasting their Northern brethren.

Only a couple of weeks ago, China said about Russia that “the friendship between the two peoples is iron clad”.

Wang Yi, the Middle Kingdom’s foreign secretary, added that the Beijing-Moscow axis was “one of the most crucial bilateral relationships in the world”.

We did find the usual reprobates siding with Russia during the UN vote,including Belarus, North Korea and Syria

However, in a case as seemingly black and white as the invasion of a sovereign state, we ought to have expected more enthusiasm from the International Community of Nations.

We haven’t. And that should give us food for thought.

What is perhaps even more striking is that a notable list of countries who voted against Russia at the beginning of the month did so with little enthusiasm.

Saudi Arabia and Israel are two very interesting examples and worthy of deeper examination.

Closer to home, however, we find Germany and France equivocating.

First, Germany:

Sanctions on Russia? Absolutely. So long as these exclude oil, gas and coal.

So said Olaf Scholz, her lionised Chancellor, and Robert Halbeck, a Green, and Business Secretary, currently in office.

Under relentless pressure from the millenarian German Green Party, this European manufacturing behemoth dismantled her entire nuclear energy sector over a decade, turned her back on France, her supposed EU “partner” and ran headlong into Russia’s embrace – for the Climate.

Judging them by their actions, the Greens pushed their agenda for the sake of political expediency.

Now there is no hiding behind platitudes. Germany’s need for energy is existential. When the chips came down, she fell squarely on Russia’s side.

To muddy the waters a little, she protested publicly – too much it seems – and voted against her Eastern energy dealer, all the while sending hard currency back Putin’s way – directly funding his war machine.

In the real world, deeds matter, not words.

Second, France:

Close to 90% of France’s largest blue chip companies listed on the French stock exchange remain active in Russia. Some, like Leroy Merlin, are even expanding as competitors are leaving the market.

In addition, while Emmanuel Macron allegedly found the time to dress up as a Village-People version of Ukraine President Zelensky ahead of the forthcoming French Presidential election, presumably in support of the beleaguered nation, he saw no contradiction in giving Renault his and the French government’s blessing to continue operating in Russia.

Further, with over USD 25 billion of exposure, French banks are among the largest lenders in Russia, data from the Bank of International Settlement shows.

France’s position, however, goes beyond keeping her business toe in Russia.  

She is also seemingly using the crisis to gain market share in the field of agriculture and other raw materials.

The country is the political head of the European Union.

As such, and against all council for reform, she has fought tooth and nail over decades to keep its farming and fishing population subsidised by more credulous members, such as the United Kingdom – one of many reasons why the UK population voted to leave the EU back in 2016.

The invasion of Ukraine is playing havoc with commodities in which France is a direct competitor, including wheat and oils.

Russian now controls close to three quarters of global sunflower oil exports. France is a large rapeseed oil producer.

With one major agricultural competitor under military occupation and facing devastation, Macron is looking across Asia, beyond Russia, to Indonesia and Malaysia, at ways to stop competing oil products from reaching European shelves.

Indeed, Emmanuel Macron sitting with France on the rotating seat of the European Presidency, is pushing for “Climate Tariffs” on Malaysian palm oil products. France seems to be using an international emergency to consolidate one of her key sectors.

These facts are becoming too obvious to ignore and perhaps too embarrassing to contemplate.

The money markets, as perceptive as ever, are telling us that the sanctimony has been a lukewarm success at best.

While the Ruble dropped 80% of its value against the Dollar between mid-February and the first week of March, the Russian currency bounced back to recover three quarters of its value from the early March trough.

It still leaves the Ruble close to a third down on its mid-February value.

That however is a boon for Putin. His exports have hitherto been priced in hard currencies while his expenditures are all in one he controls.

The performance of his troops notwithstanding, Putin’s war has become cheaper and is funded by those who directly or indirectly dismantled Western Europe’s hydrocarbon infrastructure, hoping against hope that an alternative would materialise.

And when none was truly available, the dangerous ideologues, who unfortunately clog all the arteries of our decision-making system, decided to plough on regardless and to sacrifice our future and energy security on the altar of their moral conviction.  

Alex Story is Head of Business Development at a City broker working with Hedge Funds and other financial institutions. He stood for parliament in 2005, 2010 and 2015. In 2016, he won the right to represent Yorkshire & the Humber in the European Parliament. He didn’t take the seat.