The Soapbox: Sanctions on Russia deplete global resources

The Soapbox is a weekly column by WSN’s news desk examining the major developments in world news and rounding up the stories we think are worth the read this week. Global consciousness for a global university.

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Susan Behrends Valenzuela

The Soapbox is a weekly news column rounding up stories worth reading for a global university. (Staff Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela)

Kristian Burt, News Editor

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In Central Asia, migrant workers struggle to support their families

Since the United States and European Union imposed sanctions on Russia, migrant workers from Central Asian nations have begun to feel the impact as the value of the Russian ruble plummets.

Russian remittances — rubles sent from Russia to other countries —  account for more than one quarter of Tajikistan’s gross domestic product, leaving migrant workers who are reliant on remittances struggling to find alternative ways to support their families. 

“I will have to find another part-time job because the money that I send home is no longer enough for my growing teenage children,” Malika Abdilloyeva, a single mother who works in Russia to support her Tajikistani family, told Al Jazeera. “They have to eat well and they need school supplies.”

A Russian ruble is now worth 0.0075 of a U.S. dollar, making one ruble worth less than one U.S. cent. In 2021, a Russian ruble was worth 0.0136 of a U.S. dollar — almost twice its current value. 

Other countries, such as Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, have felt similar effects, since millions of families rely on migrant workers sending remittances back home. Around 3 million people from Uzbekistan, 1.6 million from Tajikistan and 620,000 from Kyrgyzstan entered Russia between January and September 2021. 

Since Tajikistan’s economy is based primarily on remittances, its economic survival is dependent on the war’s end. Around 70% of the nation’s families rely on remittances, with the nation’s average monthly income being $250. The Central Bank of Russia found that migrant workers sent more than $2.5 billion to Tajikistan in 2019. 

In Lebanon and Egypt, wheat shortages wreck food supply

As sanctions on Russia have taken effect, wheat, gas and cooking oil prices have soared in Lebanon and Egypt. Russian and Ukrainian wheat exports account for around 32% of the world’s wheat market. 

Around 90% of Lebanese wheat and cooking oil imports come from Russia and Ukraine. Egypt is the world’s largest wheat importer and depends on Russia and Ukraine for 70% of its wheat supply, with millions of citizens reliant on government-subsidized bread. Other countries, including Tunisia, which depends on Russia and Ukraine for 60% of its wheat exports, are coming close to a food crisis. 

Some gas stations have been forced to shut down as they wait for more imports, leading citizens to flood available stations in order to get as much of the remaining stock as possible. 

“[Some supermarket owners] want to remove cooking oil from the shelves and hoard them, while importers are rationing fuel supplies as much as possible,” Abou Haidar, the director general of Lebanon’s Ministry of Economy and Trade, told Al Jazeera. “Of course it causes panic. If you and I saw this, we’d run to the store to buy a few gallons of oil.”

The Lebanese government is attempting to find a way around the wheat crisis. Laws have been enacted that restrict wheat usage to only staple foods, such as flatbread. The government is also looking to other countries including India and France for alternative wheat sources. 

Ukrainian exports to the region might become even more restricted as Russia continues to attack the nation’s largest seaport, Odessa. 

In the EU, inflation spike compels reevaluation of Russian energy imports

Many countries in the European Union are facing heightened inflation after the union imposed sanctions on Russia on Feb. 25. The union’s total inflation in February rose from 5.1% to 5.8% — almost three times the European Central Bank’s target of 2%. In response, the central bank has changed inflation projections for 2022 from 2.6% to 5.1%. 

“We recognize that there is huge uncertainty and that things can go in all sorts of directions, and we want to be able to respond to those circumstances,” President of the European Central Bank Christine Lagarde said on March 10.

The EU relies on Russia for more than 40% of its natural gas imports, forcing countries to prepare for lessened economic growth in the coming years. Italy’s yearly economic growth is predicted to drop 0.7% following the surge in energy prices. 

Europe’s reliance on Russian energy imports has also led some countries, including Germany, to be more hesitant in following the United States’ example and imposing oil and gas sanctions. Olaf Scholz, Germany’s chancellor, has said the country currently will not follow the United States as of now due to the nation’s reliance on oil and gas.

“Supplying Europe with energy for heat generation, mobility, electricity supply and industry cannot be secured in any other way at the moment,” Scholz said in a statement. “It is therefore of essential importance for the provision of public services and the daily lives of our citizens.”

The EU is also working on a new set of proposals to decrease the union’s reliance on Russian fuel and energy exports. Final proposals are set to be determined by the end of May, in which the union plans to eliminate its reliance on Russian fossil fuels in around half a decade.

Contact Kristian Burt at [email protected]