A Trade War

Russia has announced that it won’t buy certain goods from certain of the nations that are sanctioning Russia over its invasion of Ukraine and its fomenting of rebellion in eastern Ukraine. This is a trade war that Russia shouldn’t be expected to win.

For one thing, Russia’s economy is the size of Italy’s and more moribund, so any trade war can only hurt Russia relatively more than it can hurt the far larger economies of the US, the EU, Australia, Canada, even Norway, who are the targets of the Russian boycott.

For another thing, here are some facts related to this boycott.

[Russia has] banned imports of meat, fish, milk and milk products, and fruit and vegetables….  The ban has been introduced for one year

[Russia] may also introduce restrictions regarding imports of planes, navy vessels, and cars…


Russia depends heavily on imported foodstuffs—most of it from the West—particularly in the largest and most prosperous cities such as Moscow, where imported food fills an estimated 60-70% of the market. Food and agricultural imports from the US amounted to $1.3 billion last year, according to the US Department of Agriculture, and in 2013 the EU’s agricultural exports to Russia totaled €11.8 billion ($15.8 billion). [This is against GDPs of $17.3 trillion and €13.1 trillion for the US and the EU and ₱75.8 trillion ($2.1 trillion) for Russia.]

A year, though, is plenty of time for the banned sellers to find new markets, which reduces the long-term need to sell to Russia at all. This, in turn, produces a capacity functionally to embargo Russia with respect to those goods—not by explicitly and legally refusing to sell to Russia, but by voluntarily and economically selling elsewhere instead.

A year also is plenty of time for Russia to find other sellers: Latin America, Turkey, other ex-Soviet nations, and so on. Russians won’t starve. However, the reason these other sources aren’t current suppliers is because the boycotted nations can sell into Russia at lower prices than those alternatives. These alternative sellers will, almost necessarily then, cause higher prices in Russian stores.

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