Because the russian government underestimated the response NATO before his invasion of Ukraine and, in particular, the magnitude of the sanctions that the NATO countries would have to apply against it?
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We know that the russian government underestimated the magnitude of the sanctions for information such as the following: before the invasion, Russia it had international reserves equivalent to some 650 billion dollars, of which some 300 billion were deposited in financial institutions in Western countries. Namely, Russia had deposited about half of its international reserves in financial entities that seized them after the invasion of Ukraine under the sanctions. Had this possibility been foreseen, the russian government he would have put those reserves in a safe place before launching the invasion.
There is an argument in international relations that helps to answer our initial question. On the one hand, there is consensus in this discipline regarding the fact that economic interdependence raises the opportunity cost of using force (that is, it raises the value of the best possible alternative that is given up to use force), making that use less likely. In other words, the only cost incurred by starting a war by countries whose economies do not maintain any interdependence is the cost of fighting. Between interdependent countries, on the other hand, to the cost of fighting, we would have to add the benefits that would be lost in the event that, as a result of the war, economic interdependence is reduced or disappears.
The argument criticizing the view outlined above, according to which economic interdependence makes the use of force between states less likely, holds that that perspective is based solely on the bilateral relationship between them, but ignores the systemic context in which that relationship occurs. That argument does not deny that the additional cost of using force between two economically interdependent states, call them A and B, makes a war between A and B less likely.
But what if State A is an ally of State C and State B threatens State C? The economic interdependence between A and B would make it less likely that State A would intervene to prevent hostile action by State B against State C.
Some authors believe that this would be the mechanism through which economic interdependence contributed to the start of the First World War. According to this argument, the United Kingdom would have hesitated to honor the security commitments it had with France and Russia. before the war because this would have involved facing its second trading partner, Germany.
It could be argued that Vladimir Putin assumed that, in order not to lose the benefits of economic interdependence, Germany or the United Kingdom would not apply significant sanctions against Russia and its citizens in case of invading Ukraine. A precedent in Ukraine itself led one to believe that: that of sanctions against Russia after its occupation and annexation of Crimea in 2014.
According to research by Anders Åslund and Maria Snegovaya, if applied consistently and persistently, the sanctions approved against Russia in 2014 would have cost it two and a half points of GDP per year. But, in retrospect, we know that those sanctions were not applied consistently or lasted over time. Had it done so, for example, the UK would not have been required to adopt new sanctions against the so-called Russian “oligarchs” after the 2022 invasion.
In addition to the Crimean precedent, the signals that governments like the German sent to their Russian counterpart up to the very eve of the invasion of Ukraine did not suggest that they were willing to apply far-reaching sanctions either.. In the next column we will explain why that would have been the case.