The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

European Union/Russia:
Half an Embargo

Jun 6, 2022

This article is translated from the June 3rd issue, #2809 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group of that name active in France.

European Union (EU) leaders announced a new batch of sanctions against Russia on May 30, after lengthy debates. This sixth batch targets some Russian oil exports but spares natural gas exports.

Along with blacklisting more oligarchs and banning a tenth Russian bank from the international payment system, EU leaders announced they will no longer import oil from Russia by ship. But the pipeline which supplies Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic will keep running.

Since February 24, European leaders have been proclaiming their solidarity with Ukraine, posing alongside Zelensky, and confiscating yachts and luxury properties owned by a few Russian oligarchs. But they avoid deciding on and enforcing economic sanctions against Russia. The reason is obvious. European leaders broadcast great democratic principles but first and foremost they defend the tough and sharp interests of their capitalists. European investors have been established in Russia for 20 years. They did good business there and bought plenty of cheap raw materials. But for three months now—much longer than their American counterparts—they have suffered the consequences of sanctions imposed on Russia. Only with great reluctance did French bank Société Générale, automaker Renault, and sporting goods retailer Decathlon pull out of the Russian market.

The stakes are even higher with oil and natural gas. Natural gas pipelines continue to supply Europe with Russian gas at full volume, and several cross Ukraine. There is a strong reason for this continuing flow. As the head of German chemical group BASF said in April, completely cutting off the supply of Russian natural gas could plunge the German economy into its most serious crisis since World War II. Germany is Europe’s foremost industrial power and imports more than half of its natural gas from Russia. It could not stop without drastically reshaping its industry at great cost.

As for oil, by slapping the embargo on sea routes only, EU leaders came up with a trick to avoid cutting off oil supplies to landlocked countries in central Europe. They gave exceptions to Bulgaria, which will still be provided by sea, and to Greece, Cyprus, and Malta. Their tankers may still deliver Russian oil outside the EU, so as not to leave the market open for Japan and Britain, which is no longer part of the EU. After all, the ground war in Ukraine intensifies the economic war between capitalists all over the world.

European leaders did not aim to avoid conflict with Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, no matter what journalists claim. Nor were they trying to have sanctions hit the Russian population hard. Rather, they defended the interests of their home corporations against rivals, primarily American corporations. And whether the sanctions are heavy or light, employers and politicians will use the sanctions to impose new sacrifices on workers and to justify soaring energy prices. In war as in peace, capitalists and workers have opposite interests.