Yesterday’s Russian invasion of Ukraine was shocking, but not surprising. Western governments have had several months to determine their response, but it seems that they haven’t used their time very productively.
As the US, UK, EU and others scrambled to find the right words and actions to respond to the unfolding horror, one thing became clear: Western leaders are unwilling to take actions that will have any negative implications for their own country.
The US and UK, which have little reliance on Russian gas, are pushing for sanctions and import bans. Germany – which has postponed, but not abandoned, a decision to approve the new Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline – and Italy are significantly reliant on Russian energy and so have pushed back against any such sanctions.
On the other hand, while many countries believe that Russian oligarchs and their families should have their assets seized, the government of the UK, where many of these people like to invest, live and educate their children, has made only limited sanctions against a small number of individuals. Similarly, there is little alignment on whether Russia should be barred from the Swift banking payment system.
The list of sanctions is still evolving and is likely to have changed by the time you read this note, but the West’s immediate response has been reactive, uncertain and, taken together, weak.
Strategy involves making choices and in each of those choices, there is some pain. If like Rolls Royce for example, your strategy is to have the very best, highest-priced products in your market, you shouldn’t expect to have the biggest market share. Or, if your strategy is, like McDonald’s, to have the most efficient operating model, you need to accept that you won’t be able to offer a huge variety in your menu.
Wanting it all – big gain, no pain – is understandable, but not a great strategic move. As you choose your strategy, you’re also choosing what you can’t have and where you’ll have to accept some pain. To date, western governments have been unwilling to make that choice.
Off The Record: Let’s Work Together by Canned Heat
Together we stand, divided we fall
Come on now people, let’s get on the ball
And work together
Come on, come on, let’s work together (now, now people)
Because together we’ll stand
Every boy, every girl and-ah man