Can the West Stop Russia by Strangling its Economy?

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There’s the Russia-Ukraine war that’s easy to follow in the news right now. We can watch Russian bombs falling on Ukraine, see Russian tanks smoking on the side of the road, hear from Ukrainian resistance fighters livestreaming their desperate defense.

But there’s another theater to this war that’s harder to see, but may well decide the outcome: the economic war that West is waging on Russia. Europe and the United States initially responded with a limited set of sanctions but then expanded them into a counterattack capable of crushing the Russian economy. Vladimir Putin, for one, understands the danger: As the force of the West’s measures multiplied, he readied his nuclear forces in a bid to warn Europe and the United States off. This is terrifying territory.

So I asked Adam Tooze — a brilliant economic historian, the director of the European Institute at Columbia, and the author of the indispensable “Chartbook” newsletter — to explain how the war in the financial markets is shaping the war in streets of Ukraine. What he gave me was a whole new way to see how Putin had readied his country for conflict, the leverage that Russia’s energy exports gave it, how the dreams of the globalizers had cracked, and what the West both was and wasn’t doing in response.

But this is two conversations, not one. On Friday, Tooze and I recorded just as the war began. That was a conversation about the economics of the war as both Russia and the West understood it when the bombing began. But on Monday, we spoke again, because so much had changed. Rather than splice the two discussions into an artificial omniscience, I’ve linked them, because I think they reveal more in sequence: They show how fast this war is reshaping the politics around it, how quickly the escalation is coming, how rapidly the plans are crumbling.

So we discuss the sanctions that the West has deployed against Russia, how Europe’s dependence on Russian energy exports undermined the West’s response, what Putin understood about the dark side of economic interdependence, how Ukraine’s remarkable resistance — and the remarkable leadership of its president, Volodymyr Zelensky — reshaped the politics and policies in the West, how this war could alter the geopolitical calculus of China and Taiwan, the new economic order that is emerging, and more.

Mentioned:

“Putin’s Challenge to Western hegemony - the 2022 edition” by Adam Tooze (Chartbook)

“The economic consequences of the war in Ukraine” (The Economist)

Book Recommendations:

The Economic Weapon by Nicholas Mulder

The End of the End of History by Alex Hochuli, George Hoare and Philip Cunliffe

The Future of Money by Eswar S. Prasad

Thoughts? Guest suggestions? Email us at ezrakleinshow@nytimes.com.

You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more episodes of “The Ezra Klein Show” at nytimes.com/ezra-klein-podcast, and you can find Ezra on Twitter @ezraklein. Book recommendations from all our guests are listed at https://www.nytimes.com/article/ezra-klein-show-book-recs.

“The Ezra Klein Show” is produced by Annie Galvin, Jeff Geld and Rogé Karma; fact-checking by Michelle Harris; original music by Isaac Jones; mixing by Jeff Geld; audience strategy by Shannon Busta. Our executive producer is Irene Noguchi. Special thanks to Kristin Lin and Kristina Samulewski.

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